Downtown Parking Is Trending Up

January 16, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Despite the City Centre ramp closing and with demolition work for the new art museum set to start — meaning the Monroe Center lot will lose half its spaces this month — the city gained monthly parkers over the last quarter.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said the downtown system added 51 new access card customers since October and that there were more than 300 monthly parkers in the system now than at this time last year.

Most monthly parkers work downtown.

According to the department’s latest quarterly report, 671 monthly access cards were available at the beginning of this year. At this time last year, 986 were available, while two years ago 1,452 were available. So 315 more monthly parkers are in city lots and ramps than a year ago, and 781 more than two years ago.

That number should jump by over 200 later this year when Blue Cross Blue Shield moves into the former Steketee’s department store on Monroe Center in August.

The nonprofit health insurer is expected to pick up the remaining 255 monthly parking cards assigned to the new Monroe Center ramp at Ottawa and Louis.

When that happens over 900 more downtown parkers will be paying monthly fees to the city than in January 2002, a sure sign of growth over the past two years.

Ritsema told parking commissioners earlier this month that the system’s growth has been slow — between 50 to 100 parkers each quarter — but steady.

Parking Commissioner John Logie, who also chairs the Convention and Arena Authority, said he was trying to get a portion of the new parking ramp below DeVos Place open earlier than scheduled. The entire 685-space ramp should officially open when all the construction on the convention center is complete.

“The probability is, we won’t get all of it before the end of the year,” said Logie.

“We’re hearing that, sooner rather than later, spaces will be available,” added Ritsema.

Ritsema also said that the downtown system was in good shape for now as far as supply and demand was concerned. But she remarked that her department needs to keep a two-year outlook on spaces and availability and that outlook should become clearer once the transit and parking study for the Heartside Business District is completed.

Logie said the study’s results may indicate that a ramp might be needed in the district, especially with the ongoing developments of the Cherry Street Landing project and on South Division from Fulton to Cherry streets.

Without the City Centre ramp, the district is without a large parking facility. Would the city build another ramp there, possibly on a DASH surface lot south of Van Andel Arena?

“I think we need to be sensitive to that, especially if the economy picks up,” said Logie.

Steve Wilson, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said if the 60-minutes free parking policy weren’t available, local residents would perceive that there wasn’t any available parking downtown. He added that retail needs to be expanded downtown to better serve out-of-town visitors to DeVos Place, but he noted that getting local residents to come downtown was the best way to enlarge that business sector.

Two downtown business owners told parking commissioners that the free parking policy needs to continue. Greg Clarin, president of Van Hoecks Shoes, said prospective retailers would be scared to set up shop downtown if the program were terminated.

Blake Dupon, president of Blake’s Turkey Sandwich Shoppe, said an optometrist left Monroe Center because his customers couldn’t find convenient parking and that a small downtown law firm also was thinking of leaving.

“We don’t have a parking problem, we have a parking perception problem,” said Dupon. “I want to stay downtown and I want everyone else to stay, too.”

Parking commissioners agreed to institute the free parking policy in the Monroe Center 2 ramp last month.

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