On possible DDA boundary expansion

Over the last few years, our organization (the Downtown Development Authority) was approached by several business and property owners who asked what it would take to expand the DDA boundaries and allow those property owners to have access to DDA resources.

In the last few months, the DDA has identified a few areas (which must be contiguous to our current district) that could benefit from such an expansion and is in the process of collecting feedback from those property owners before determining which areas to propose to include.

In 1975, state law enabled municipal governments to establish DDAs as authorities of the city, overseen by city council but governed by a separate board of directors, half of which must have business or property interest within the district.

The mission of each DDA across the state (of which there are hundreds, from Cheboygan to Traverse City, Negaunee to Royal Oak) is the same:

∫ to correct and prevent deterioration within the established DDA district;

∫ to encourage historic preservation;

∫ to acquire and dispose of interests in real and personal property (meaning the DDA can purchase property, like an office building, a park like the Pocket Park, or a commercial property);

∫ to create and implement development plans in the district;

∫ and to promote the economic growth of the district.

In the 1970s, investment was moving out of traditional, historic downtowns and into drivable, big-box developments on the outskirts of town: shopping malls, strip malls, and big box stores. Those developments would leave traditional downtowns throughout the state with empty, deteriorating buildings.

Seeing the value of those historic resources and districts, the state enacted the law to allow local governments to create DDAs and tax increment financing, a mechanism for property taxes from the district to be reinvested in the district as property values increase over time.

Fortunately, we have seen the pendulum swing back to walkable, densely built environments as residents (and visitors) see the value in historic downtowns and places where they can ditch the car and be able to walk or bike to shops, restaurants, and events.

In the last 20 years, we have seen our own downtown flourish with renovations of key historic buildings, an increased demand for residential units, new businesses, and events and festivals.

Many state funding programs for property redevelopment are only open to properties located within a DDA district, as organizations like the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) see the value (and sustainability) of investing in walkable, historic environments. Those grants have been crucial for projects to come to life in our district — the renovation of Red Brick Tap and Barrel and the alleyway, Alpena Furniture, 205 W. Chisholm St., as well as nearly 35 apartments. The MEDC estimates that every $1 of MEDC investment leverages an additional $3.88 in private investment and results in an increase in $5.13 in nearby commercial property value and $1.05 in nearby residential property value. Those programs have a ripple effect on the rest of our community, and, as our downtown grows — and more properties have access to those tools — Alpena grows, too.

Our DDA was formed in 1980 and was expanded in 1985, 1988, 1989, and, most recently, 2004.

So there must be a benefit or an ulterior motive for the DDA to expand its boundaries? That’s a question I’ve received.

Any additional tax revenue from the new district (estimated under $20,000 in the first year) must be reinvested back into the improvement of the district: lighting upgrades, marketing and promotional activities, park improvements, public art, beautification, business recruitment.

So, the boundary expansion doesn’t “benefit” the DDA as an organization, but it does benefit the property owners who will have access to DDA projects, grants, and improvements.

A healthy downtown improves the entire community’s quality of life. Our current downtown district has come a long way since our DDA was formed in 1980, and I am grateful for the vision that city and downtown leaders had over 40 years ago to create the DDA as a tool to help with that revitalization.

DDAs are long-term investments by the community who see the value of having vibrant, walkable commercial districts and vibrant historic cores. When I walk, bike, or drive through other areas in Alpena, I see the opportunity for that positive momentum to spread throughout other key commercial areas that currently lie outside our boundaries.

Vibrant businesses, more people walking and enjoying the area, more beautiful streetscapes, a hub of commerce, culture, and activity: DDAs are tools to help us get there.

Anne Gentry graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature and has studied in Italy and South Australia. She is currently executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.


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