The New And The Next

November 5, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Construction on the city’s newest parking ramp at the corner of Cherry Street and Commerce Avenue SW will be completed this month.

Construction on the city’s next parking ramp, on Ionia Avenue NW, could begin next year. The site is home to the former Imperial Metals factory, one- and-a-half acres that sit just north of downtown in the middle of the Monroe North Business District.

“Everybody is still in the conceptual stage of the project. We’re looking at a brownfield and public parking for the project,” said Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema.

“The city needs to decide whether Ionia is the right location for public parking,” she said of a decision that city commissioners will ultimately make.

The Irish Twins Group LLC has owned the property for nearly two years and had wanted to develop the site into loft office space with a microbrewery as a key tenant. The brewing company originally planned to take 15,000 square feet, leaving 45,000 square feet for offices. But the brewer didn’t get its loan approved by the Small Business Administration and couldn’t move into the building, so the development plan changed.

Now the Irish Twins Group is proposing apartments for the site, possibly 180 units, with some commercial space and is working with Pioneer Construction Co. on the project.

Blue Bridge Ventures CEO Jack Buchanan, who formed Irish Twins with his brother, Grand Rapids attorney Rob Buchanan, has offered to sell a portion of the property to the city for a parking ramp.

“That location is in the middle of the North Monroe sector,” said Buchanan.

“The dimensions are very nice for a parking ramp,” said Ritsema.

Buchanan said the demand to be in the business district is growing and parking will be a critical factor to meet that demand. Jim Czanko of Pioneer Construction, which has done renovation projects in the district, said it was time for the city to take a serious look at putting parking in Monroe North and possibly get the project going in the spring.

“We have to look into it and get past conceptualization. Timing will be extremely important,” said Czanko, sales and marketing director and a project manager for Pioneer.

“The city will have the parking ramp; it will be city parking,” he added.

If the city agrees to build a ramp on the property, it wouldn’t be attached to the building that will go up on the site, but it would be connected by a walkway. The physical grade of the property would allow the ramp to be discretely hidden from the street.

“It’s a better way for us to do a mixed-use project,” said Ritsema of not having the parking above or below the building.

A few months ago, Ritsema said her department had enough funds to build 1,200 new spaces in the downtown system, and four projects could be undertaken with those dollars over the next few years.

One would be a 500-space DASH lot for the city-owned downtown shuttle service and that lot may get built just south of Wealthy Street, if the Downtown Development Authority expands its boundary to include the site. The other projects would be three ramps with 120, 157 and 460 spaces. The cost for all four has been estimated at $28 million.

Mitch Shutter of Parking Services said Rockford Construction should finish work on the ramp at Cherry and Commerce by Nov. 15. The parking garage has 313 spaces, and Ritsema said about 75 percent have been reserved for monthly parking.

The ramp cost Parking Services about $10.5 million, a figure that includes the price tags for the property and the building’s design, which calculates to be over $30,000 a space.

“It looks very nice,” said Parking Commissioner Kathy Clements. “You’ve done a good job.” CQX

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