New Ramp Offers More Than City Hall Asked For

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The likely candidate for the city’s new parking ramp at Ottawa Avenue and Louis Street is pretty much an engineering marvel. The design has more spaces than the city expected at the same price, offers prime downtown commercial space, matches the neighborhood’s architecture and fits nicely on an oddly shaped parking lot.

“We are going to do all the state-of-the-art things,” said Dave Clark, a project architect with Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber. “This ramp is going to last a long time.”

FTC&H is designing the ramp with Allan Davis Associates and Carl Walker Engineers, the same team that drew the city parking facilities at Ottawa and Fulton, and Pearl and Ionia.

The cost for the proposed Monroe Center 2 ramp is slightly more than $8.6 million. It will offer 560 parking spaces over 5 1/2 levels. When discussions began on a new downtown ramp, Parking Services Director Ted Perez estimated he could get 500 spaces for $8.6 million. To his delight, the design team gave him 60 more at no extra charge. Those additional spots could mean another $72,000 in annual income for his department.

Each space will cost the city about $17,300 to build, more than the $15,360 the city spent for each stall in the four-year-old Ottawa-Fulton ramp. Clark said the per-space cost was higher for the MC2 ramp because the building’s footprint is 18 feet narrower at the corner of Ionia and Louis than it is at Ottawa and Louis, a layout that keeps the ramp from offering even more spaces.

“We lose a row of parking all the way up the ramp,” said Clark. “It means a loss of 65 to 70 spaces.”

As for the building itself, its architecture is the design highlight. Based on traditionally styled buildings located throughout downtown, the façade features red brick pre-cast panels that are shaped to resemble window openings and are accented by buff-colored pre-cast head and sill pieces. The design blends well with the existing buildings around it.

“We wanted to contribute to the neighborhood, not detract from it,” said Clark. “It’s the level of detailing. The windowed appearance that we were able to incorporate, the use of the projecting cornices and using brick throughout the whole façade is an asset.

“There isn’t a real backside to the project. Even though the (north) side faces an alley, it’s going to have the same façade treatment as the other three sides,” he added.

“I appreciate the exterior design,” said Parking Commissioner Jack Hoffman, also a building preservationist. “I’m very impressed with how it will fit in the neighborhood.”

The building will be 84 feet high, about 8 feet taller than the nearby Aldrich Place and a foot shorter than the city’s height limit. It will have almost 199,000 square feet for parking and the entrances will be sloped about 6 percent. Each level will be 11 feet and four inches from floor to ceiling and each bay will be 60 feet wide. Every parking space will be 8 feet 9 inches wide. Why that wide? Vehicles are bigger today than a decade ago, and the city has two types of parking customers.

“If there are a lot of transient users you want the standards to be a little bigger, a little easier to get in and out of quickly. In contrast, monthly users will get used to the geometrics of the ramp and can swing into a smaller space because they do it three times a day,” explained Clark. “This ramp is being designed for ease of use from both a transient and monthly parker use.”

The ramp’s major entrance will be on Ionia with another entry on Louis. Stairways and elevators have been placed at the northwest and southeast corners to promote pedestrian traffic along Monroe Center and the adjoining commercial area.

The ground floor design sets aside 7,000 square feet for commercial use. The space fronts Ottawa Avenue and has an 18-foot-high ceiling.

A pair of electrical systems will service the ramp.

One will provide power for lighting and equipment in the parking areas. The second will do the same for the commercial space. A natural gas generator will drive the emergency power system. The machine room will likely be located in the lower level, instead of in a tower.

One option being explored is adding a covered walkway that would take parkers from the ramp to Monroe Center. It would run from the ramp’s north side to the first floor of the Phinney Building, which fronts Monroe Center. The cost of the walkway is estimated at $230,000, an expense not included in the ramp’s total cost. The city may ask the Downtown Development Authority to pick up at least a portion of its price tag.

Clark said the ramp should last about 60 years, maybe longer. How long it lasts depends on how well it drains water, which depends on the slope of the floor and the density of the concrete.

“There are no flat floors in the building. They all have a two-percent minimum pitch to them. The one thing that we’re trying to prevent is water laden with salt from getting into the concrete and attacking the reinforcing in the concrete. The reinforcing is epoxy-coated steel. But still, if it’s attacked by the salt-laden water it will degenerate over time,” said Clark.

“So the first thing we try to do is get that water off the concrete as fast as possible, and not let it sit there and have a chance to get into the concrete. That’s where the two-percent sloping floors come into play.”

As for the concrete, Clark said its density is measured by its strength and permeability. The plan is to use concrete rated around 6,000 pounds per square inch. A thickener, known as pozzolins, will also be added to the mixture to make a denser concrete.

Originally the ramp was to have some below-grade parking, but the cost of going underground would push the project over its budget. So FTC&H has suggested that the city drop that idea from the plan.

Next up for Clark is to make the rounds showing the ramp’s plan to various city departments, including the Building Authority. After that tour, the design development and construction documents will be drawn. If all goes well, bids will be taken sometime in July.

Perez said the city hopes to start construction on the MC2 ramp around Labor Day, and that it will take about 15 months to build it.

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