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Downtown Development Authority to expand its boundaries, capture more tax dollars and make more of Grand Rapids a play space for those with privilege

October 19, 2016

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Last week, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) voted to expand the boundaries of downtown Grand Rapids (as can be seen in this map on the right). This means that the DDA, a non-elected body will have more control over the use of taxes and development projects that primarily serve the interests of people who are highly privileged.

This decision was made at the last DDA meeting. The DDA meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 8:00am at City Hall.

The Downtown Development Authority was established in 1980, which is when the financial elites decided to re-invest in the downtown area, determining development projects and and how tax funds would be used. The original area of control in 1980 was a total of 46 acres. Since 1980 the DDA has expanded 15 times and if the City Commission approves the current expansion the will bring the total amount of acres the non-elected body will have control over to 873 acres

A more detailed look at the proposed expansion areas can be seen in the following 5 maps.

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More details can be read in the DDA documents presented at their meeting last week. This document is entitled Development and Tax Increment Financing Plan for City of Grand Rapids Downtown Development Area No. 1 as Amended.

The document is worth reading in that it lays out numerous proposed budgetary plans for ongoing and new projects. For instance, the proposed budget for ongoing and future costs for parks, open space and cultural improvements is estimated to be $25 million. Streetscape improvements are estimate to be $120 million. The Downtown Market, which has already cost taxpayers millions and primarily benefits those with class and race privilege, gets $75,000 every year.

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No doubt there are lots of people who will salute the DDA’s expansion plan and have no problem with their use of tax dollars that primarily benefit the capitalist class. However, think for a moment how the millions of dollars they are using and are proposing to increase, think about how that funding could be a re-investment in neighborhoods like the Black Hills area or the Baxter neighborhood. When I say re-investment I don’t mean more micro-breweries or boutique stores, I mean the re-investment in the people who have lived in those neighborhoods who are threaten by gentrification. With the kind of tax dollars the DDA is planning to capture and use for making downtown Grand Rapids a larger play area of the rich, imagine how that could be used to end homelessness, provide safe and affordable housing for the thousands of families that vulnerable to displacement. Imagine if those funds were used to fight food insecurity and to transform neighborhoods into centers of food production that are not market-based.

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We continue to wonder why there is such inequity in Grand Rapids, inequity that disproportionately impacts communities of color. This is why the Movement for Black Lives is demanding an investment-divestment plan that would benefit the Black community. The Investment part would transform health care, education and other vital areas for the Black community. The Divestment part would mean that we no longer spend billions on prisons, police, government surveillance and militarism.

The likelihood that that the City of Grand Rapids will pass this proposal is very high, unless of course there is organized opposition. The City officials will make a decision on December 6.

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