Few things are more frustrating than observing a meeting of Royal Oak's Downtown Development Authority. Making it worse is that it is impossible not to recognize the lack of cooperation and animosity between CITCOM and the DDA. Nor is the phenomenon new. Versagi Voice first paid serious attention to the situation in 2006.
DDA's July 2012 meeting ended with emotions showing over CITCOM's decision to form an ad hoc committee to develop a Downtown Master Plan. Ire was caused by someone mentioning that CITCOM has said something like the committee "may include the DDA, the Chamber, and the like."
"The DDA is supposed to address downtown issues," someone reminded the city manager who sits in on DDA sessions. Over the years, we have watched the city commission turn the switch on and off about the simple matter of the DDA's role over parking, as one example of the city's dismissive attitude. It could be worse; former commissioner Terry Drinkwine detested the DDA and attempted repeatedly to demonstrate its subordination to CITCOM.
This meeting's philosophical discussion led to the practical complaint that the Department of Public Services is redoing crosswalks near parks and at other places in town but not downtown on Washington or Main.
Real work included reports on updating the DDA's website, both for desktop computer and mobile devices; attempts to clear up confusion over the state's policy about transferring liquor licenses from other parts of town to downtown; the success of and retailers' pro-active cooperating with the Chamber's annual garage sale (which will be returned to the Center Street Parking Structure next year); creative disagreement over what should be illustrated in advertisements; the seriousness, or not, of Royal Oak's rodent problem.
An observer comes away from meeting after meeting of the DDA with the impression that most of the volunteers arrive without having bothered to look at the agenda or having done any homework. Coincidentally, before the advent of laptops at the CITCOM table, several commissioners, both male and female, became notorious for not having opened their packet until they were seated at The Table.
BUT DDA pays for such things as a substantial portion of the salaries of the Planning Department; 3 cops dedicated to the Central Business District; court debt. Its collection of TIFA funds (Tax Increment Financing Act) is apparently indispensable for the city. But the group has lost focus. It no longer employs a downtown manager; it blows hot-and-cold about sponsoring events; it certainly has lost its founding emphasis on bricks & mortar. Perhaps an outside consultant would help come up with a restructuring plan. While she's at it, the consultant might redesign the meeting agenda so the city manager isn't sitting there when they are discussing in-house trivia.
Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.