Parking Pitch Is Now Parked

November 24, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A request for private parking in a portion of a public ramp has been put on hold, while questions about the legality of granting the request are being looked into.

The Cityview Condominium Association wants to lease a ground-floor section of the Monroe Center ramp for its private use over the life of the one-year-old facility. That section is accessed from Louis Street, between Ottawa and Ionia avenues, and contains 19 metered spaces that were designed for visitor parking. The city owns the ramp.

The condo owners reside in the former People's Building, now the Select Bank Building, at 80 Monroe Center. Association President Jonathan Rooks, whose Parkland Properties Inc. built and sold the condos, told parking commissioners that the group wants to re-stripe the spaces and offer valet parking so more than 19 vehicles can be parked there. The association also wants to add an overhead door to the entrance and would pay for all the changes.

"We're willing to pay almost $30,000 (a year) for that space. This could generate more revenue to the city," said Rooks at his initial meeting with parking commissioners.

Parking commissioners, however, received complaints about granting the request, with the strongest coming from Leo Beil. The owner of Leo's, located on the ramp's ground floor at the corner of Ottawa and Louis, said losing the Monroe Center lot to the Grand Rapids Art Museum project and with Blue Cross Blue Shield employees now parking in the ramp, there isn't much visitor parking left for his customers.

"Our opposition to losing that (section) is in relation to transient parking. We can't lose that transient parking because it's all we've got," said Beil, who added that customer traffic to his restaurant has fallen by 25 percent to 40 percent on different days since the lot closed and Blue Cross moved in.

Jeffrey York, an attorney with Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, told Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema in a letter that lowering the number of transient spaces would amount to a breach of the lease Beil has with the city for his restaurant space. Beil signed a 10-year lease with the city, which contains six five-year renewals, last year.

York, in representing Beil, also wrote that the city couldn't designate spaces in the ramp because it was funded through tax-exempt bonds. IRS regulations forbid doing that. But the Monroe Center ramp is an exception to that rule as Parking Services used monies from its reserve fund to pay for a portion of the $12 million facility — enough to set aside 111 spaces.

The condo association based its request on an ordinance city commissioners approved last year that allows the city to enter into Monroe Center parking leases with residents who live downtown.

Residents get reserved spaces and around-the-clock access in return for paying a yearly fee of $1,800, which includes the $115 monthly charge and a 30 percent premium. Leases are renewable annually. The ordinance also offers a 30-year pre-paid lease for $21,778.

Ritsema told parking commissioners that she felt the association's request went beyond the city's policy. She added that price-wise the association's offer was close but less, because about 25 vehicles would be parked in a section set up for 19.

"But in my view, it is connected to that policy," said Parking Commissioner John Logie, also an attorney. "I would keep an open mind on it."

Ritsema said other issues also needed to be resolved such as who would be responsible for repair and maintenance of the area, where the bike racks located there would go, and whether Parking Services employees would have access to the office the department has in that section of the ramp.

"There are a lot of good things about it," she said of the association's offer. "But there are some negatives."

City counsel Richard Wendt, a partner at Dickinson Wright, is going to review the legal questions surrounding the request. Rooks, who also sold units in Monroe Terrace at 600 Monroe Ave. NW, is going to discuss the issue with the condo association.    

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