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ANN ARBOR, MI-The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, one of Michigan’s strongest examples of downtown growth incubators, is seeking a renewal.

A DDA is typically created to zone out property in a community’s downtown for revitalization. Funding is provided by a tax increment financing authority, which captures taxes from the businesses within the zone, and a department or board is set up by the city to improve infrastructure, encourage new development and create programs that help area businesses.

Most of the DDA’s in Michigan were created in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most with 30-year life spans. Now, many communities are looking at either keeping or discarding the authorities.

Susan Pollay of the Ann Arbor DDA says that her authority wants to extend its usefulness, and has proposed an eight-point plan to continue rebuilding the downtown area. The city’s downtown, in large part taken up by the campus of the University of Michigan, began its DDA in 1982.

“Three years ago our board spent some time talking about going out of business in 2012,” Pollay tells GlobeSt.com. “The more we talked about it, the more the stakeholders downtown said they’re not just interested in jump-starting growth, they also want to make sure things don’t slide backwards.”

The authority has asked the city council for a renewal; specifically, about $90 million to implement a new plan for 30 more years. The plan would be new, Pollay says, because the prior mission of the Ann Arbor DDA has been to improve and add parking downtown.

The DDA took over city parking structures and meters in 2002, and has widely improved the parking downtown, Pollay says. “The department stores said they really needed help with parking downtown.

We took over and made parking a self-sustaining system,” Pollay says. “But now, we see that businesses are still leaving the downtown. It’s not just about parking, it’s about sustainability.”

The DDA has also been integral in redevelopment projects, including the failed $50 million LibertyFirst retail/office project at a parking lot at First and Washington. The DDA is now working on a development plan for that lot and two nearby lots, the South Ashley (Kline) lot and the First and Williams site. This site may be built with retail, office and parking structures, Pollay says.

The eight points of the new DDA plan include improving infrastructure, development partnerships, community services and business encouragement, especially for unique stores. “We’re gaining national franchises, but losing our one-of-a-kind buildings and businesses that gave us identity,” Pollay says. Another point is to encourage housing and pedestrian-friendly travel in the downtown area, Pollay says.

The DDA, like many in other communities, is in danger because of the economy, Pollay says. When the downtown zone grows in value, that tax money goes back to the DDA, not cities suffering with low budgets and tight general funds, according to Pollay.

“We’re presenting our case,” Pollay says. The DDA is in prime shape to continue its push to boosting the downtown development. “If we didn’t do it, the city would be responsible to do it anyway. We need to have one group continue to fight for the infrastructure of downtown Ann Arbor, and to make sure private investment stays downtown.”

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