Commissioners Facing Big Decisions

July 23, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners may decide Tuesday whether a development planned for the heart of downtown gets more time, and whether most of the downtown public parking system gets a new owner.

Third Coast Development Partners has offered the city up to $45 million for four ramps and 10 lots that comprise two-thirds of the city-owned downtown system. Third Coast has also offered to negotiate another price and to lease the facilities from the city. In return, the city would get an infusion of cash for its deficit-ridden general fund.

City commissioners asked the Parking Commission to chime in on the sale, and that panel said selling the system to Third Coast wouldn’t be in the city’s best interest. The Downtown Development Authority, which owns some of the lots, reached a similar conclusion earlier.

Members of the private sectors, most notably commercial realtors and developers, have voiced their opposition to the sale. And at least four city commissioners seemed less than enthusiastic in April about turning over the public system to private hands.

City commissioners may also decide whether to give Two West Fulton LLC its second six-month extension to complete its purchase of the former City Centre parking ramp site at Division and Fulton. The firm has a mixed-use project planned for the property that has the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts as its major tenant. Retail, an extended-stay hotel and public parking are also planned for the project, which should top $20 million.

Commissioners granted the first extension in January, which moved the closing date to July 31. If they grant the second extension, the closing date will be pushed back to Jan. 31, 2008. Parking commissioners recently recommended that Two West receive the extension.

“If it’s not happening within six months, then it’s not happening,” Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema told her board members. “We (the city) are willing to pull the plug.”

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Jay Fowler told the parking panel that he thought Two West should get another six months.

“I do support this request. It’s a good project that deserves a little patience,” he said.

To get the second extension, Two West will add another $15,000 to the $10,000 that it deposited with the city in January for the first extension. Two West will also bump up its $2 million purchase price for the property by the Consumer Price Index figure at closing time.

“We are making progress,” said Sam Cummings, president of Second Story Properties and partner with RSC Associates in Two West.

Cummings said the Two West Project, called The Gallery, is undergoing its fifth design.

“We have a small site that we are trying to fit a lot of uses on,” he said of the 37,000-square-foot parcel.

UICA Executive Director Jeffrey Meeuwsen said the agency’s fundraising campaign for its new home is under way, but he needs a little more time to convince people that moving from its current Sheldon Avenue location to The Gallery is the right move. He said he appreciates the patience the city has shown Two West and UICA so far.

“We are 100 percent committed to this,” said Meeuwsen.

Parking commissioners also agreed to transfer the net revenue Parking Services receives from parking violations to the city’s general fund, an amount expected to be nearly $290,000 for this fiscal year. But board members said they’re hoping the transfer isn’t permanent and the revenue will come back to the department within three or four years.

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