Public, Private Sectors Building Ramp

September 18, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners have approved a contract with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for a $1 million Core Communities Fund Grant to help with the cost of building a 2,000-space, $40 million parking ramp on Michigan Street at the current site of the Towers Medical Building.

The city is partnering with Christman Capital Development Co., the DeVos family, Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute to build the ramp, which is designed to meet the increasing demand for parking and office space generated by the growth of Spectrum Health, the VAI and other medical offices along the Michigan Hill medical corridor. It’s also expected to facilitate development of the Michigan Street SmartZone.

“This area cannot continue to grow without additional parking and office space, so we view our projects as integral to the future of Michigan Hill,” stated Joe Hooker, development services manager of Christman’s Grand Rapids office.

According to the DeVos family, the family joined with Christman in the redevelopment project because it “shares a commitment to the medical corridor and downtown revitalization.” The family has a vested interest in the downtown area as a leading supporter of the DeVos Children’s Hospital and a supporter of the Cook-DeVosCenter for Medical Sciences on Michigan Hill.

The shared ramp will be constructed beneath a three- to four-tower medical research office complex and would be key to attracting more medical, human science and bioscience-type jobs to the medical corridor, Economic Development Director Susan Shannon told commissioners Tuesday.

“It could result in up to 2,000 jobs because key to this — and what’s been a difficult part of it — is to build a 2,000-space parking ramp that would be used not only by the development but also by the city, the Van Andel Institute and SpectrumHospital.”

The partners are putting together a complex financing package that will include significant private investment and may also include SmartZone Authority and Brownfield Authority participation. The MEDC grant represents the first part of the package.

“This is the beginning of what we hope will be a very dynamic funding package to support what’s going to be an excellent project undertaken by the Christman group,” Shannon remarked. She said city staff has been working with Christman for well over six months on the estimated $97 million project.

The parking shortages and needs of all of those players and stakeholders were identified in the Michigan Hill Parking Study and their expansion plans hinge on adequate parking, she noted.

Shannon said there are as yet no details on the building and ramp design, and specifics of the development are pending local and state permits.

“Our hats are off to the Christman group for not only looking at their own needs but the needs of their neighbors for this parking ramp that will be the supporting piece of that,” Shannon said. She noted that MEDC officials met with city staff and the Christman Co.

“They were very, very, very impressed with this project and what it’s going to do for our SmartZone and the whole ‘knowledge economy’ shift that’s taking place in the state of Michigan.”

The MEDC subsequently offered the city a two-year, $1 million grant to apply to the ramp’s construction.

Shannon said the city also is looking at available resources from the SmartZone, tax increment financing, brownfield and other kinds of funding pieces that can be brought together.

According to the Christman Co., construction could begin as early as next spring.

“The short- and the long-term of this project is just immense,” said Third Ward Commissioner Robert Dean. “The fact that parking is horrendous all around there is terrible.”

Commissioner Rick Tormala of the 2nd Ward likened the current parking situation in the Michigan Hill area to a filled pool that overflows into the Heritage Hill and Belknap neighborhoods.

Mayor George Heartwell noted that The Rapid transit system was involved in the Michigan Hill Parking Study and is exploring transit solutions to move people quickly from remote locations to Grand Rapids Community College, the VAI, Spectrum and other offices in that area.    

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