DDA to assume marketing and event programming from Village Association

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 5, 2013

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Although it’s not going away, the role of the Village Association is definitely changing.

The district’s downtown development authority, or DDA, is taking over marketing and organizing of special events and concerts in the Village. An amended DDA plan and budget to allow for these functions was approved by a unanimous vote of the City Council at a meeting Jan. 28.

City Manager Pete Dame said this has been something that’s been in the works for about a year. After the council conducted a special meeting last spring with Village stakeholders about ways to best keep it vibrant, he said one of the big issues that came up was how to “enhance marketing of the Village.”

“In many cases, the Village is a well-kept secret,” Dame continued. “Even within the Grosse Pointes, I don’t think there’s in-depth knowledge about what’s going on in the Village and what’s great (about it).”

One of the things the DDA would like to do is market the Village to the “broader community,” he said.

When the DDA was established in the fall of 2008, it was with the goal of shepherding through a few major new developments then in their infancy, DDA Board Chair Andy Martin said. The DDA could also set aside funds for public infrastructure improvements, Dame said. Then the economic meltdown occurred, rendering the big projects no longer feasible.

The DDA has undertaken projects like moving utilities underground, but marketing “was very specifically left off of the original (DDA) plan” because they didn’t want to duplicate the efforts of the Village Association, Martin said.

But as a volunteer group, the Village Association has found it increasingly challenging in recent years to mount its various major festivals, concerts and other special events. Village Association President Mike Kramer, a business owner who also serves on the DDA Board, said the Village Association was formed more than 50 years ago through the former Jacobson’s department store, a longtime Village anchor.

“We fully support the proposed changes. … (This plan offers) an element of professionalism and resources we have never been able to generate towards marketing and special events,” Kramer said.

Last spring, Dame said the DDA approached the Village Association about assuming its marketing responsibilities. The Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce last fall announced that it was taking over the massive Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade from the Village Association, with the hopes of better involving the whole community in an event that draws visitors from all of the Pointes and elsewhere.

“We all have the best interests of the community in mind,” said Martin, who said he’s a City resident but doesn’t have a “vested interest,” such as a business or building in the Village.

Martin said the Village Association and its volunteers deserve kudos for their efforts.

“All of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Village Association for all of the hours volunteers (have served),” he said.

The Village Association will continue, said Kramer, but membership will now be free instead of based on dues, so that all Village businesses will essentially be members. He said they’ll continue in a communications role.

Officials said the DDA hopes to build on and expand from the base already established by the Village Association.

Because the DDA’s funds come from increased property values collected through the Tax Increment Finance Authority, or TIFA, City Council member Christopher Walsh said these new DDA functions would be paid for through that and “at no expense to taxpayers.” Dame said they can also collect donations and sponsorships for special events, as had been done by the Village Association. For example, thanks to sponsors, Dame said Music on the Plaza is self-supported.

Dame said the DDA’s first step would be to look for an event coordinator to keep existing festivals and events, like the Music on the Plaza concert series, going this year. The DDA will also be looking for a marketing consultant to determine “what’s been done and (what) could be done,” he said.

However, City Council member Andrew Turnbull said, despite public perception, there are certain things the DDA can’t do, such as market vacant properties in the Village, like the former Borders bookstore.

“Those are things that are completely out of our control,” he said.

Dame concurred.

“That is the property owner’s responsibility, and we couldn’t do it if we tried,” said Dame, pointing out that the DDA and the City lack legal rights over the private properties.

At press time, a search was under way for an event coordinator for Village activities and special programs. For more information, visit the City’s website at www.grossepointecity.org.