The Ins And Outs Of Ramp Parking

July 18, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — In with the new and out with the old doesn't just apply to years, pro athletes and the fashion industry. Downtown parking ramps also fall under that adage now, as the city will open its new Monroe Center ramp around Aug. 20 and close its City Centre ramp by Dec. 31.

Although shutting down City Centre is necessary, it's not the best of news for monthly parkers there and the Heartside Business District. And when Monroe Center opens, it will differ in two ways from the other ramps the city has built.

One is that Monroe Center will make the city a landlord, as it has 13,800 square feet of space available for lease. Business Advocate Susan Shannon said a developer has an option on 11,800 square feet of ground floor space and is considering locating a restaurant there. Another 2,000 square feet is available along an enclosed walkway that runs from the north side of the ramp to the first floor of 87 Monroe Center.

The other distinction is the ramp has turned out to be the most expensive parking facility to be built by the city. Each space has ended up costing $21,778, or about $5,000 more per stall than the Ottawa Fulton ramp, which opened in 1996. That cost would have been even higher if the city didn't already own the land.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said she has had 65 requests for monthly parking in Monroe Center so far, at $115 a month, and her department is taking reservations. The ramp has 550 spaces.

Chances are pretty good that more of the new spaces will be rented after the City Centre ramp closes by the end of the year. City Centre has 444 monthly parkers among its 540 spaces and they will need a new place to park. The Monroe Center ramp is roughly two blocks west of it, but there is a pretty hefty cost differential between the two.

Parkers at City Centre currently pay $73 a month and moving to Monroe Center would raise their monthly parking charge by 58 percent. Other less expensive options are available, such as the DASH service, but these may not be as convenient.

As for the Heartside Business District, it saw the ramp as crucial to keeping businesses in the district and to drawing new investors there to fill some empty storefronts along Division Avenue, where only limited off-street parking is available and almost no on-street parking exists.

"If the City Centre ramp were to go with nothing planned to replace it down the road, I think it would be a huge blow," said Dennis Sturtevant, a business association board member and a catalyst behind the $140,000 parking study the district will do with the city.

"But I'm pretty confident that, as a result of this study, we will be able to create some kind of creative plan that will address the growing parking needs associated with the kind of fast-moving development that is going on in this area," he added. "Because if we don't, there is no question development activity is going to stall."

Even though Heartside has grown in businesses, Sturtevant told the Business Journal that development in the district has taken longer than it would have if there were more parking there. Retail and residential uses, he said, have suffered the most. Adding to the pain is that the DASH service doesn't dash in and out of Heartside.

City Centre is closing because it has become too costly to mend. A study done for the city by Walker Parking Consultants of Kalamazoo revealed it would run $7.8 million to extend the life of the ramp for another decade or two.

"The cost of repairing it is too expensive," said Tom Scott of Walker Parking.

Scott said salt, a freeze-and-thaw environment, and a mix of concrete that contains more water and less cement than is used today did the building in. Walker Parking recommended that the city close the ramp by the end of this year and then tear it down. It opened in 1962.

"I don't want to alarm anybody," said Scott. "This thing is not going to come crumbling down by the end of the year."

Parking commissioners swallowed hard, but unanimously adopted the recommendation, which now will go to city commissioners for their approval.

"I don't see any point in dragging this out any longer," said Mayor John Logie, also a parking commissioner.

"This doesn't come as a surprise," added Parking Commission Chairman Jack Hoffman. "We have been monitoring this situation for a long time."

Since 1994, the city has made repairs to the ramp eight times with each fix-up costing nearly $150,000. City Centre generated about $300,000 in revenue for the city during the past fiscal year.

City Centre may not be demolished right after it closes, as money to raze the ramp is tight right now. It's also not certain what the city will do with the property at Fulton and Division, which some see as the heart of downtown. It's no secret that the mayor would like private investors to buy the site, create jobs and add to the city's tax base.   

A Tale Of Two Ramps

                                  City Centre                     Monroe Center
Location                   Fulton at Division               Louis at Ottawa
Entrance                   Division Street                   Ionia Avenue
Year Opened           1962                                  2003
Construction Cost   $1.1 million                         $12 million
Cost Per Space        $2,037                              $21,778
Lifespan                   41 years                             40 to 60 years
Spaces                     540                                     550
Levels                                                              12
Parking Use            Monthly, event and visitor    Monthly, event and visitor
Monthly Charge     $73                                     $115
Event Rate              $5.25                                 $6.25
Half-Hour Rate      $0.90                                  $0.90
Free Parking          60 minutes                           None planned
Lease Space           None                                  11,800 square feet in ramp
                                                                           2,000 square feet in
                                                                           walkway

Note: $1.1 million in 1962 is worth nearly $6.4 in 2002 dollars.
Source: Parking Services, July 2003

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