Report Asks For More In Parking

June 17, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Last month, parking commissioners spent some time discussing whether the city owns too many downtown ramps and lots, and whether that situation is keeping private operators from entering the market.

This month, commissioners learned that they need to build at least two more surface lots and one very large ramp downtown over the next two to five years in order to accommodate the anticipated commercial and residential growth in the Heartside Business District.

“Parking is more than just a discrete item. It’s necessary for residential development. It’s necessary for commercial development,” said Parking Commissioner John Tully.

Tully and other commissioners got the news that the city will likely have to spend roughly $20 million on parking facilities from the Heartside Parking and Transportation Demand Management Study.

The report calls for a new DASH route to be installed through Heartside and a 500-space lot to be built within three miles of Heartside. The cost to build the lot was estimated at $1.5 million to $2.5 million in today’s dollars. A figure wasn’t included for another DASH bus, in case one would be needed.

The study also calls for the city to build a 1,000-space ramp south of Van Andel Arena, but within 1,200 feet of the Oakes Avenue and Ionia Street intersection, for an estimated $15 million to $18 million in today’s dollars.

A ramp of that size would be the largest the city has ever built — about 80 spaces bigger than the GovernmentCenter ramp under CalderPlaza and nearly twice as large as the latest addition to the city’s parking inventory, the MonroeCenter ramp, which has 560 spaces and cost around $12.2 million to build.

S. Khurshid Hoda, a senior transportation engineer with Walker Parking Consultants, one of the firms that conducted the study, told commissioners that if the city couldn’t build a ramp with 1,000 spaces, it should build two ramps that have 600 spaces each.

When commissioners asked whether Parking Services, which is responsible for making bond payments on new facilities, had enough funds for more construction, Director Pam Ritsema had a brief answer.

“It’s not unlimited. There certainly are some restrictions,” she said.

Parking Services made bond payments of $1.75 million on three ramps — MonroeCenter, Ottawa/Fulton and Pearl/Ionia — this past fiscal year from its $9 million budget. Last year, the department made its last payment on the Campau ramp, which dropped its debt load by $450,000 for the current year.

Back in April, Ritsema told commissioners that the city decided not to invest in a new parking ramp that is part of the three-tower medical development being built on

Michigan Street NE
near
Bostwick Avenue
. The city had initially considered owning 500 of the 2,300 spaces planned for the ramp, but changed its mind when rising construction costs, higher concrete prices and little expected revenue flow from evening parking became too much.

“It was more than we could comfortably finance,” said Ritsema in April.

Parking Commission Chairman Jack Hoffman said the city would save about $10 million by backing away from that project, or half of the $20 million the city would need in a few years to build two lots and a ramp in Heartside.

The report also said that another 200 public spaces would be needed in a few years at the former City Centre ramp site at the corner of

Fulton Street
and
Division Avenue
. The city owns that property and is currently negotiating a sales agreement with RSC Associates for the site.

RSC wants to put a mixed-use building on the property with 83 parking spaces for the public — less than half what the study feels will be needed within two to five years.

As for the current parking situation in Heartside, the report found 9,065 spaces with a peak demand of 7,202 spaces, for a surplus of 1,928 spaces. But 82 percent of those are privately owned and not available to the general public, and many spaces are not located where they are most needed.

The report said more parking is needed near Saint Mary’s Health Care, Mary Free Bed Hospital, Catholic Central High School, Western Michigan University, Cooley Law School, Van Andel Arena, Cherry Street, and the intersections of Sheldon and Oakes, and Fulton and Division.

Thirteen percent of the 1,200 people interviewed for the study said they get to Heartside by bus and carpooling. Forty percent said they would always use their cars, while 57 percent said they would consider alternatives to driving.

Walker Parking Consultants and URS Corp. conducted the study, which took 18 months to complete and cost about $150,000.    

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