New downtown parking rates approved

July 13, 2012
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While it took parking commissioners about three months to agree on the cost of parking at city-owned ramps and lots for the fiscal year, Grand Rapids city commissioners adopted the new rates in about 15 minutes. And a good portion of the city fathers’ time was devoted to discussing the respectable sparring parking commissioners had during what was characterized as a somewhat entertaining rate review.

“We had some lively discussions, and I think staff did a wonderful job with that,” said Commissioner Elias Lumpkins, the board’s representative to the Parking Commission. Lumpkins joked he was glad that another scheduled meeting made him miss one of the rate debates at the Parking Commission.

Pam Ritsema, who directs the city’s Enterprise Services division that includes Parking Services, said there basically are two schools of thought. One wants to raise rates, encourage the use of transit and not compete with Ellis Parking. The other fears raising parking prices too high will keep people away from downtown.

“I think we’re getting some fresh ideas that will only make us stronger,” said Mayor George Heartwell of the spirited discussions.

But the net result for city parking customers wasn’t all bad because the new prices won’t become effective until Aug. 1 — a full month after the start of Parking Services’ fiscal year. Starting Aug. 1, the cost of monthly parking will go up by the Consumer Price Index figure of 2.65 percent. Ramps will range from a low of $116 a month at Cherry Commerce to a high of $147 a month at Government Center and Pearl Ionia. Monthly parking prices at downtown lots will range from $26 at DASH West (Area 8), Market Street and the new Jefferson State lot to $62 at Mason Ionia.

As of last week, the city’s downtown system had 5,675 monthly parkers, down from 5,980 a year ago.

Event parking will go up $1 and range from $7 to $9, depending on location. Meter hoods, which are largely used during street construction, will rise from $10 a day to $15, marking the first hike in that price since 2005. Hoods will cost $7.50 a day during street events the city co-sponsors with a civic group.

“There are several rates that will not increase,” said Ritsema, referring to daily visitor and daily maximum rates. Ritsema said the visitor rate hasn’t risen since 2005, and the last time the maximum rate rose was 2008. “For short-term visitors, we try to keep that a reasonable fee.”

The new rates are projected to give Parking Services approximately $300,000 in additional revenue this year and bring total parking income close to the $12 million mark.

“The other thing we look at is our financial situation,” said Ritsema of the annual rate review process for the department, which isn’t supported by taxpayer dollars. “The parking department is in pretty good shape and has a fund balance.”

Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss asked Ritsema about the city’s neighborhood parking situation, and she said the Neighbors of Belknap Lookout has requested a task force be created to analyze the on-street parking situation in that residential section just north of Michigan Street’s Medical Mile.

The commercial area near Belknap has experienced about $1 billion worth of growth in the past decade from Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and a few others. That growth has led employees and students of these institutions to park on Belknap’s streets, which has caused NOBL to ask the city to consider issuing a residential parking permit for the neighborhood.

“We have been patient in recent years in the hope that the neighboring institutions would be able to address this problem directly with their employees and students, but conditions have only deteriorated. With the prospect of continued growth along the Michigan Street corridor, we cannot continue to wait while our neighbors experience difficulty accessing their homes,” read a letter NOBL wrote to the Parking Commission.

“Longtime residents, elderly neighbors and young children should not have to walk multiple blocks from their car to their home just so a college student can have a free parking space,” the letter added.

Ritsema said Spectrum Health and GVSU have tried to stop employees and students from parking in the neighborhood, even offering them shuttle rides with snacks. “They’re trying really hard,” she said, adding that it might take a city ordinance to solve the problem.

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