The Downtown Development Authority, the beneficiary of more than $55 million in tax dollars captured from Detroit properties last year, has only met once in the last three months. It canceled more than half of its last 20 biweekly board meetings, including one set for Wednesday.

The cancellations call into question the actions of an already secretive agency with a board that answers exclusively to the mayor, bylaws that don’t clarify the extent of board members’ powers and whose committee meetings weren’t public until 2017. That year, it was sued for meeting privately to discuss the Detroit Pistons’ move downtown.

The authority is responsible for supplying loans, grants and other support to businesses across 7 square miles in the downtown area in order to increase economic growth. State law gives downtown development authorities the power to seize a percentage of the revenue raised by property taxes to give subsidies to developers in the greater downtown footprint. 

Lanard Ingram, director of public relations at the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., which manages the DDA, said the meetings have been canceled because there are no projects that are seeking approval from the DDA to move forward. Some of the proposed projects include requests for loans, lease modifications and other plans for a downtown development. 

State law grants the DDA board a wide range of powers to promote economic growth and activity in the city. The DDA and DEGC staff provide the board with the meeting agendas, which include project proposals. It is unclear why there have been few proposals and agenda items given to the board to vote on.

The Board of Directors is made up of 12 volunteer members — all appointed by the mayor. They have full-time jobs or commitments outside of their board duties and only attend the regularly scheduled board meetings or other special meetings to conduct DDA business. Many work in the development industry.

Although the authority can employ a director to provide a supervisory and oversight role, it does not have a director and doesn’t have any plans to hire one in the immediate future, Ingram said. 

But that money comes at the expense of public services. Of the $55 million tax dollars captured last year, $24.7 million was taken from the Detroit Public School Community District. In the last 22 years, the DDA captured $48.5 million of the Detroit Public Library’s revenue. Several library commissioners spoke out against the DDA tax captures last year after DPL’s operating costs increased during the pandemic.

Projects that have received funding from the DDA include Little Caesars Arena and the United Artists Building. The DDA also provides a $900,000 annual subsidy to the QLine and almost $390,000 toward maintenance costs for Little Caesars Arena and Comerica Park. 

The authority’s Tax Increment Financing Plan says that developing the downtown area will spur development across the rest of the city. But critics say that hasn’t proven true.

“What we found is that a lot of those benefits stay cooped up in (the DDA), and they don’t spill over into the city as a whole,” said Theo Pride, a community organizer with the Detroit People’s Platform. “They’re taking that value and then putting it back into only downtown, and not libraries and not schools and not neighborhoods and not parks and recreation throughout the city.”

The Detroit People’s Platform has been monitoring the authority’s activities for almost two years. Pride said the board acts as a rubber stamp for development and provides almost no oversight about where to best invest the money.

“In my opinion, what the DDA does is still rather superficial because of the very clandestine, secretive nature under which they operate,” Pride said.

The board unanimously approved all project proposals that came forth this year. 

The most recent board meeting on Sept. 14 lasted just 26 minutes. The board members discussed and approved Olympia Development of Michigan’s $190 million development proposal for a 14-story hotel and a request for a one-year extension to come up with plans for the remaining properties the developers own in the area.

The amount of tax the DDA captured between July 2021 to June 30, 2022, is approximately $53 million and will be reviewed by the board’s finance committee on Wednesday, Ingram said.

Reach MALAK SILMI, the Report for America Corps Member for Outlier Media, at malak@outliermedia.org or 734-985-0377.