A Cherry Of A Deal

July 15, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Parking Services may have found nearly 30 percent of the parking spaces a recent study said the department needed to assist the economic growth expected in the Heartside Business District over the next few years.

Parking commissioners gave Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema the OK to hammer out an agreement with Cherry Street JV LLC that would put a 370-space parking ramp at the northwest corner of Commerce Avenue and Cherry Street SE, just a few blocks east of Van Andel Arena in Heartside. A recent parking and transit study done for Heartside said the growing business district needed at least 1,300 spaces within the next two to five years.

The six-story ramp designed by Design Plus would cost just under $7 million or nearly $19,000 per space. Cherry Street JV, a joint venture between RDV Corp. and Rockford Construction, owns the land and would turn it over to the city for the ramp.

The property is near the Thomas M. Cooley Law School satellite campus at Western Michigan University’s Ionia Avenue Graduate Center and in the ongoing Cherry Street Landing project that RDV and Rockford are building. Cherry Street JV is required to provide Cooley with 80 parking spaces to fulfill the lease arrangement it has with the Lansing-based school, and the city would set aside space in the ramp to meet that commitment.

Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc supports the project, as does WMU Director James Schultz.

“We strongly support this. We need this benefit,” said Schultz.

The proposal calls for Parking Services to spend $1.75 million to get the project started and then finance the remainder of the construction cost through a 30-year, municipal bond package. Ritsema said her department has enough revenue to cover the debt, expected to be about $350,000 a year, and the first few years of operation.

“I believe we have the financial ability to pay for the ramp,” she said.

Ritsema estimated the ramp would gross $673,350 in annual revenue and cost $616,523 to operate, leaving her department with a yearly surplus of nearly $57,000.

As the plan now stands, 70 percent of the spaces, or 259, would be allocated for monthly parking at a rate of $110 per month. Daily visitor parking would cost $2 per hour and 111 spaces would be made available each day. About 150 spaces would be available on evenings for event parking at $6.

“This site also has the benefit of evening revenue because it’s so close to the arena, and we like to see that,” said Ritsema.

Ritsema said that Rockford Development President Mike Maier and company COO Kurt Hassberger approached her with the ramp offer. The proposal is similar to the one the city entered into with Rockford for the build-out of the police headquarters in the former City Centre building at Fulton Street and Division Avenue.

“I am comfortable doing business with Rockford,” said Ritsema.

Cherry Street said it could start construction within a month after signing an agreement with the city and that it would take nine months to build the ramp. That means the ramp could open as early as next summer.

“This makes a lot of sense. It’s in an area with a lot of demand,” said Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong.

Parking commissioners are likely to vote in September on the agreement, which then would go to city commissioners for their approval.

The parking portion of the Heartside study called for a new DASH route through the district supported by enough surface parking for 500 cars and for a new ramp with space for 1,000 cars to be built near Ionia Avenue and Oakes Street SW. That ramp could go up someday on two surface lots behind the arena, and the city is actively seeking a site for at least one more DASH lot.

“We have been working with the DDA to purchase another DASH lot and they’re in negotiations,” said Ritsema.

As far as Ritsema is concerned the Cherry Street proposal is coming at the right time, as downtown monthly parking is getting scarce. Two years ago, there were 1,300 monthly cards available and today that number is 461. At the current absorption rate and without more spaces, Ritsema said there wouldn’t be any monthly cards available by late next year. 

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