On Ionia A Valet Ballet

June 13, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Of the dozen Ionia Avenue businesses that responded to a Parking Services Department survey as to whether a privately run valet parking service should continue on that street, 58 percent said it shouldn’t.

But there is likely better than a 58-percent chance that the business, Valet Services, will continue operating on Ionia.

Parking Services Director Ted Perez is negotiating a letter-of-understanding with James Steigenga of Valet Services that would allow the firm to stay in business, but would move most of the cars the company parks from the street to a city-owned lot on Ionia at Weston.

“We’d like to bring a little more order to the process,” said Perez.

Perez said both sides were close to striking an agreement on the 14-point contract. The biggest hurdle left to clear was determining how many curbside spaces the company needs to properly serve its customers, and when these spaces would be available to the service.

If an agreement is reached between the city and Steigenga, it would remain effective until city commissioners approve an ordinance that will regulate and license the valet parking business. Perez said such an ordinance had the full attention of City Attorney Philip Balkema.

Most parking commissioners present at the last meeting felt the business should continue operating in some manner, and that an ordinance should contain penalties for abusing the metered spaces intended for public use. Fifty-five percent of the businesses surveyed said the valet service has used those spaces unfairly.

Parking Commissioner Jack Hoffman pointed out, however, that enforcing the time limit on metered spaces would be difficult to do and called for the company to only be able to use off-street spaces. But Perez said curbside parking for customer drop-offs and pick-ups was vital to the business.

In May, parking commissioners heard complaints about Valet Services employees parking customers’ cars at metered spaces for longer periods of time than allowed, and then feeding the meters just before a Parking Services meter checker arrives. These spaces front other businesses on Ionia, and some reported that their customers were unable to find parking on the street because of the employees’ actions.

Foye McDonald & Associates, a hair salon at 15 Ionia SW, and Club 1894, a downtown nightspot at 58 Ionia SW, are Valet Services’ primary clients.

An ordinance may be timely, as the valet parking service may grow in the near future. Parking Commissioner Michael Ellis reported that his firm, the Ellis Parking Co., had received inquires from a few downtown businesses about starting such a service for their customers.

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