Better economy creates a new dilemma

April 15, 2012
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The Grand Rapids Parking Commission grappled a bit during its annual review of parking rates last week. The discussion generally centered on whether increases should be limited to the Consumer Price Index or whether the bumps should be slightly higher than the 2.87 percent CPI because demand for parking is up.

The monthly parking rates, though, at three of the eight city-owned ramps aren’t scheduled for a hike. As the rate schedule stood last week for the upcoming fiscal year, the Gallery on Fulton, Ottawa Fulton and Weston Commerce ramps remain at $120, $123 and $120, respectively, for monthly parking. But hikes have been proposed for the other ramps, and three — Cherry Commerce, Louis Campau and Monroe Center — are roughly a few dollars above the CPI.

The Cherry Commerce ramp is targeted for the largest increase, from $113 a month to $120, an upward adjustment of 6.2 percent.

“The Cherry Commerce ramp is close to capacity during the day. We’re going to bring that one more in line with the Weston Commerce and the Gallery,” said Kimberly Miller, parking services manager.

Parking Commissioner Joan Rosema-David, though, said none of the increases should top the inflation figure because the economy hasn’t fully recovered. She also said that every proposed increase should be reconsidered. “I think we need to have more caution than say all the rates should increase,” she said.

But Parking Commissioner David LaGrand disagreed. “In a good economy, you try to gain surpluses. With as popular as downtown is, now is the time to exceed the CPI,” he said. “I’ve been downtown a long time and I’ve never seen it cooler than this.”

Parking Commissioner Michael Ellis said exceeding the inflation figure can be dangerous, while sticking to it is likely to be perceived by the system’s parkers as acceptable and reasonable. “I do agree with Dave that downtown is really busy right now,” said Ellis, president of the Ellis Parking Co.

Ellis said his main concern is when rates aren’t raised on a regular basis and an increase finally comes along, it can be a shock to customers because the hike can include several years of inflation. “That’s going to be less acceptable when that happens,” he said.

He used the Gallery on Fulton ramp as an example. For the past three years, the monthly rate has been $120, and the current proposal keeps it at that figure for another year.

Ellis also said commissioners should stabilize the rates and get back to increases based on the CPI. “I would be cautious in over-thinking this too much,” he said.

LaGrand said the commission needs to know what visitors’ traffic to a ramp is before the monthly rates are set. He said if visitors, defined as those who pay a daily fee to park, help fill a ramp, then monthly rates can rise a bit more because, if a ramp losses monthly parkers due to a higher charge, that loss can be offset by the revenue from visitor parking.

LaGrand also said the $10 daily charge for meter hoods, which are normally used by construction firms, should be raised. The rate has remained unchanged for the past eight years; the recommendation is to raise it to $12. “There is no way that fee covers our cost. It’s cheap parking. What incentive is there for them to get rid of (the hoods)? Frankly, I would support $20, but I could go for $15.”

Parking commissioners will make their decisions on all the parking rates next month, and then the new charges will go to the city commission for final approval. The increases proposed for monthly parking at the lots and ramps would give Parking Services additional revenue of $153,372 over the course of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The fee for the DeVos Place ramp, which charges $142.50 for monthly parking, hasn’t been adjusted because the Convention and Arena Authority owns it and Miller said the agency hasn’t contacted her regarding the rate for next year. Parking Services manages the facility for the CAA.

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