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Downtown Development Authority approves parklet amendment

The Downtown Development Authority has approved an amendment to the Streetscape Improvement Incentive Program as a first step to the creation of parklets in Downtown Grand Rapids.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has approved an amendment to include the design, fabrication and installation of parklets as an eligible expense in the Streetscape Improvement Incentive Program’s guidelines. The amendment is the first step in the possible creation of parklets in Downtown Grand Rapids.

The approved amendment allows businesses to convert parking spaces in front of their store into mini-parks for passive recreation.

“It’s going to offer another tool both to improve the public realm downtown and to provide an economic development tool for local businesses,” says Tim Kelly, DDA Development Project Manager.

Parklets began in San Francisco and have been duplicated in cities like New York and Chicago, says Kelly. While some of these parklets act as public parks, the parklets created under the new amendment would solely have a commercial use and add outdoor seating to businesses.

Parklets will increase the utilization of the program, says Kelly. Since the program’s creation in 2001, only four projects have participated in the program. All four of those projects were large-scale areaway and snowmelt projects.

Staff will now continue working with Grand Rapids’ Planning, Traffic Safety and Building Departments to develop program guidelines before parklets can be constructed downtown.

“It’s been shown in other cities that these parklets work better on some streets than they do on others,” says Kelly. “You need to take into account traffic speed [and] grade changes. You also want to put them in places where people already congregate, where they are already located so that you’re just providing them a tool.”

Build a Better Block reSTATE placed several parklets on State Street in May and found the parklets to have economic value, says Joshua Leffingwell, one of the event organizers.

"We thought that utilizing outdoor seating would make the street seem more vital and active so we decided that parklets were the best option," says Leffingwell. "It also allowed us to test something that had never been tried, to see if it could work in Grand Rapids... it turns out it can."

One of the parklets was placed in front of Grand Rapids Pizza Delivery.

"We were not able to put a dollar amount to how much more valuable it was than when it was simply a parking space since we only ran the test for two days," says Leffingwell. "But in talks with the owners of Grand Rapids Pizza Delivery, they agreed that it helped draw people to the business more than the parking does."

Leffingwell notes that some of the parklets fared better than others.

"People did like the parklet for public space as well but we found the space was not as well utilized if it [was] not by businesses or restaurants."

The amendment also increased available funding of project costs up to 50 percent from 35 percent and keeps the price cap at $35,000 for each project. The payment of meter hooding fees was also added as an eligible expense for the program.

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