A Good Parking Plan Or Big Pain

September 26, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — A recent residential parking plan approved for the new Monroe Center ramp is apparently reaping a few rewards already. The policy, which was designed to help landlords convince potential tenants to live downtown, may have assisted at least one developer.

Jonathan Rooks, owner of Parkland Properties of West Michigan LLC, told Mayor John Logie recently that he has received reservations for all 26 of the condominiums he will be building in the Peoples Building at 60 Monroe Center NW.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema told parking commissioners that she has received a few inquiries about the program, which reserves spaces in the ramp and offers 24-hour access. One request came from a couple who wanted to downsize their living arrangement before their kids could move back home. Other calls were from building owners.

With a residential program in place, commissioners revisited a nearly 10-year-old parking incentive policy for new business. Created in 1995, the policy offers businesses new to downtown a 50 percent reduction in their monthly charge for a portion of their lease.

Sign a three-year lease and get six months of parking for half price. A five-year lease gets 12 months of half-price parking. A 10-year lease offers a two-year, half-price discount.

The city stopped offering the program in 1999, when the economy was good and spaces were full. From 1998 through 1999, the incentive plan signed up 42 businesses and parked 1,000 employees. With the economy not as good as it was then, the city is considering offering it again.

“It can be the tool that helps close the deal that gets someone to move from the suburbs to downtown,” said Ritsema.

She suggested it could be in the city’s best interest to take a hit on revenue for the early portion of a lease in order to capture that revenue over the long term. But in reality, the city can’t enter into a, say, 10-year lease for parking in a facility that is being funded by tax-exempt bonds. So in those garages, transactions are done on a month-to-month basis.

Parking Commissioner John Edison suggested that the board consider adding renewing customers to the policy and not just limit it to new business.

But Tom Rothwell of DP Fox Ventures, which owns the Frey and Bank One office buildings, said such a discount program would compete with private parking revenue. He said his firm has its own parking for tenants and has had to offer its own incentives to keep tenants.

“We take a direct hit when we offer incentives,” said Rothwell, adding that DP Fox had to offer a 10-year tenant a 25-percent discount on a seven-year renewal.

“It’s almost as much of a struggle keeping tenants downtown as it is drawing people downtown,” said Parking Commissioner Monica Sekulich, also with DP Fox.

Commissioners set aside making a decision on what to do with the policy and will likely take the matter up again in October.           

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