City Still Looking At Parking For North Monroe

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Last summer, the North Monroe Business Association told the city it needed more parking to accommodate its growth. Seven months ago, the group said it would need 1,000 spaces within a year, and more than 2,000 spaces by 2006.

If the city can complete a triple play, the business association may get a new ramp that would offer about 600 spaces, and maybe more, at Monroe Avenue and Trowbridge Street. But many of those spots wouldn’t be open to the district.

At the same time, the owners of the Brass Works Building at 642 Monroe have begun work on a surface lot at Ottawa Avenue and Fairbanks Street that will hold 175 cars.

But to make the ramp plausible, the city has to reach a deal with the Grand Rapids Press, Kent County and Quality Auto Service. All three own a piece of the projected ramp site — a surface parking lot — and all three use it.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong and Business Advocate Susan Shannon are trying to iron out a deal for the city, largely through talks with the daily newspaper that owns the largest piece of the proposed site.

However, to members of the business association these discussions appear to be stalled, as does the city’s effort on its behalf. And even if the ramp is built, members learned the district would only get about 200 spaces once the newspaper takes its share, and only if the ramp has parking for 800 cars.

“We’re no closer than we were three years ago in getting parking,” said Jim Zawacki, president of the association and GR Spring & Stamping.

“If they don’t want to help us, there is nothing we can do about it,” said Eric Wynsma, co-owner of the Brass Works Building. He added that in trying to get additional parking, the business group has complied with every request made by the city, and nothing has changed.

The city received a $2.5 million loan last month to help build the ramp from a program administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. But the site has to be declared obsolete before the state money can be used on the project.

Parking Services Director Ted Perez said the city is also hoping to get up to $600,000 annually for the ramp from tax-incremental financing that would be done through the city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

Perez said that money would be used to subsidize the parking rate, which would run between $50 to $75 a month. He added that the ramp would open up property along the east bank of the Grand River for commercial development, as the city would then close its North Monroe lot. The ramp’s design, Perez said, would be in keeping with the renovated buildings in the district.

“This is about economic preservation,” he said.

In the meantime, the owners of the Brass Works are laying out a surface lot between Ottawa and Ionia avenues along Fairbanks Street. The Canal Street Group, the partnership that owns the Brass Works, hopes to have the lot finished in a few months. Wynsma said the paved lot will offer about 175 spaces to the building’s tenants.

“We obviously won’t be able to asphalt it until the mills open up again. But as soon as the mills open, it will be one of their first projects, we hope,” said Sam Cummings, also a partner in the Canal Street Group.

Last year, the partners tried to sell their site to the city for a multi-level parking deck that would have provided public parking for the business district. But the city said it prefers the Monroe Avenue location.

“We offered the site to the city for a low-cost deck. The city’s gripe has been that they can’t justify the price of building a full-scale ramp,” said Cummings. “We actually went through the exercise with Owen-Ames-Kimball of roughly designing a deck on that site.

“That sort of fell on deaf ears. They weren’t interested,” he added. “We estimated that they could build it for approximately 60 percent as much per space for what a conventional ramp would cost.”

Also, the city will start redesigning the Sixth Street Bridge Park this spring. Initially, the work was to have eliminated some of the park’s parking spaces. But business association members recently learned that the redesign will not remove any spaces from the park.

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