Future Of Ramp Site On Fast Track

March 22, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — An offer has been made on the site of the old City Centre parking ramp. A local commercial real estate firm placed a bid of $400,000 last month for a client on the parcel at Division Avenue and Fulton Street.

But the city can’t take any action on the offer until it has the land appraised, and Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema hopes to have that done by mid-June.

In the meantime, Ritsema met informally with the Historic Preservation Commission last week to explain that the city wants to raze the closed ramp. In its place, she told preservation commissioners that the city wants to build a parking lot there that would serve the Heartside Business District until a final decision is made on the property.

Ritsema felt all the information needed to make that final decision would be in her hands by the end of July, when a parking-and-transit study going on in Heartside is expected to be completed.

Although the decision remains unknown, two things are certain.

One, the ramp, which was declared structurally deficient last fall after 42 years of service, must be razed.

“Under any scenario, the ramp has to come down. Our personal view is the market may be ripe for development on that site,” said Assistant City Planning Director Jay Fowler.

Two, parking has become tougher to find since the ramp’s 700 spaces went away at the end of last year, and some businesses near the facility are hurting.

“All heck broke loose among our visitors. We underestimated the effect of that closing by tenfold,” said Theresa Thome, executive director of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, which sits kitty-corner from the ramp site.

“We don’t want to leave downtown. But we want to grow our business,” added Thome. “We’re scared.”

Ritsema told parking commissioners that she has asked for bids to tear down the ramp, a job that will likely cost between $400,000 and $500,000 and take from three to four months. She also developed a timeline that has her doing all the preliminary work needed for demolition concurrently, which should shorten the usual razing process by nine months.

There is an option to having the city raze the ramp and build a lot, and that is to have the Ellis Parking Co. do both. Over a year ago, Ellis Parking Chairman Kenneth Ellis offered to do just that and then operate the lot until the city decided what to do with the property.

The offer was informal though, without any numbers, and the city has asked him to submit a more detailed bid by the middle of April.

“I’d like to see us spin that. It’s a simple concept,” said Parking Commissioner John Logie.

“We’ll just have to see how that plays out,” said Parking Commissioner Jack Hoffman. “I think it would be a tragedy to see this site continue as a surface parking lot.”    

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