Parking Down Downtown

January 23, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Monthly parking in the city-owned downtown system was down in January for the first time in three years, according to the count by Parking Services earlier this month.

There were 167 fewer monthly cardholders in the system than in January 2005. The number of monthly parkers had risen in 2004 and 2005 from the previous Januarys.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said the drop recorded this month was due to a series of single cancellations rather than a few large ones.

Ritsema, though, said she wasn’t too disappointed with a loss of monthly parkers because available spaces are still rare.

“I am not entirely disappointed,” said Ritsema, who noted that the number of cards in use this month was nearly 400 more than three years ago.

In all, 6,246 monthly cards were in use at the quarterly count, with 633 spaces available in the system. In January 2003, the monthly cards totaled 5,858.

The DASH park-and-ride shuttle service continues to do well. DASH West is sold out, while DASH South only has 108 monthly spaces available in its two lots south of Van Andel Arena. (See related chart.) A new DASH West lot will be built this year with 107 spaces on Winter Avenue, south of Bridget Street NW; it should be open in late summer.

Monthly parking is a pretty good indicator of economic activity downtown because most of the spaces are leased by companies for their employees.

The Holiday Parking Coupon program, which provided 60 minutes of free parking at three ramps downtown, resulted in nearly 11 percent of the 10,430 coupons that Parking Services distributed to 79 merchants being used. The program, which ran from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, ended up giving downtown shoppers $2,059 worth of free parking.

Customers of The Hairacy at 29 Pearl St. NW had the highest coupon return rate at 92 percent, which was good for $302 worth of free parking. Diners at Leo’s, 60 Ottawa Ave. NW, captured the most free parking with $836 worth, 41 percent of all the free parking handed out through the program.

In all, Ritsema said the coupon program generated parking valued at $4,481, with $2,059 of that total coming at no cost to customers.

“I don’t think we can say they stayed longer, but they didn’t stay shorter,” said Ritsema of the time consumers spent downtown through the coupon program.

Parking commissioners are planning to offer the coupon program again, but with some changes, and are likely to take up the program this summer.

The Saturday enforcement of expired meters along Monroe Center resulted in 1,336 tickets being issued from April through the end of last year, with fines totaling $20,340. More than $18,000 of that total has been collected, but more than $11,000 remains outstanding. Fines for expired parking go up with time, and the value of the unpaid tickets has pushed the two amounts past the original total fine amount.

Merchants along Monroe Center asked for the enforcement because they said downtown residents were taking up the spaces for at least four hours, some for all day. Enforcement of the meters will continue on Saturdays, but won’t be expanded to the side streets that run off Monroe Center.

“The program was generally well received,” said Ritsema of the comments she has gotten from retailers. “Revenue isn’t our primary motive for the program.”    

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