City Looks At Loss Of Plaza Ramp

April 11, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — At the request of local businessman and parking commissioner Bob Sullivan, the Parking Services Department will analyze the effect a loss of the city-owned Government Center ramp on Calder Plaza would have on the downtown system.

The ramp and its 900 spaces are part of a one-year option that the Gallium Group LLC has with the city to buy Calder Plaza for a 400-room hotel that would be across from the new DeVos Place convention center.

Sullivan, who owns the Day’s Inn hotel on Pearl Street, said he was concerned whether downtown would have enough available public parking if Gallium and the city work out a deal for the plaza and the ramp.

City commissioners granted Gallium, a partnership between Blue Bridge Ventures and Hines Interests LP, an option to buy City Hall and the ramp last October.

Sullivan also said he was concerned that the city may end up subsidizing the proposed hotel, likely to be operated by Marriott if a deal is struck.

Mayor John Logie, also a parking commissioner, pointed out that a number of events held at the Grand Center and DeVos Performance Hall rely on parking being available in the Government Center ramp for their success. He noted that recent events, such as the Boat Show and the Michigan International Auto Show, filled the ramp with cars and had some waiting in line for parking spaces to open up.

“To wait until something happens is too late,” said Parking Commissioner John Tully, who also favors doing the analysis and making the finding known to the City Commission.

“Something coming from the Parking Commission might be more important now.”

The new convention center, located across Monroe Avenue from the Government Center ramp, will have 700 underground parking spaces when the work is finished. But those spots likely won’t open to the public until late next year because the garage will serve as a staging area for the building’s final phase of construction, which begins in June and will probably take until January 2005 to finish.

Logie added, however, that he didn’t think Gallium would meet its part of the option by moving City Hall to a location chosen by the city at no expense to taxpayers.

“It is my belief that it can’t be done,” he said.

The mayor said he thought the city would have to borrow $75 million for a new building and parking ramp, something he said taxpayers wouldn’t approve of, if a deal were done with Gallium. He noted that a local Realtor offered commissioners four downtown sites for a new city complex and ramp and the asking price for those properties is $16 million.

“It proves my theory that you can’t do this without the citizens paying for it,” said Logie.

The downtown system has roughly 200 more monthly parkers now than it had a year ago.

Parking commissioners will take their annual look at the rate structure for the city-owned ramps and lots next month. Any increases have to be based on the Consumer Price Index from last April through March of this year and that figure will be released this week.

Commission Chairman Jack Hoffman said the city’s rates should be market based. Ellis Parking Co. Chairman Ken Ellis agreed with that, but told the board the city shouldn’t offer free parking, or expand that program, at any of its downtown ramps and lots.

“It’s impossible for us to compete with free,” said Ellis, who directs the largest privately owned parking system in the city. “We have to make a profit and you don’t.”

The city offers an hour of free parking at the Monroe Center 1 lot and the City Centre ramp.

Also at last week’s meeting, Acting Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema was officially made the permanent director. Ritsema took over the department reins in July when longtime director Ted Perez took early retirement from the city, which conducted a national search for a new director.

“They concluded they had the best person right here,” said Logie of Ritsema. “They’re very pleased and I am, too.”

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