Architecture & Design, Construction, and Government

DDA going completely underground

Board and Parking Services will take a close look at below-ground parking.

October 11, 2013
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A company that has built 11 underground parking ramps nationwide will determine how feasible below-ground parking will be for potential development sites south of downtown’s Van Andel Arena.

Carl Walker Inc., a familiar name in local parking circles and based in Kalamazoo, was selected by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority and the city’s Parking Commission last week in an RFP competition to conduct a feasibility study largely for the Area 2, 4 and 5 parking lots around the arena and a lot near Heartside Park on Ionia Avenue SW.

The study will cost up to $50,000; the tab will be split between the DDA and Parking Services, the  department that operates most downtown ramps and lots, including those in the study area.

Carl Walker was one of two firms that responded to the bid process.

The feasibility study is being seen by the DDA as an extension of its Arena South Visioning Plan, which proposed underground parking for developments that are built on the surface lots the board owns south of the arena to Wealthy Street SW.

Arena Place is the first of those developments. Orion Construction is leading a development team that has plans to put a $24 million mixed-use project featuring office, retail and residential on the Area 2 lot on Ottawa Avenue SW, and the building plan includes below-ground parking spaces.

“Going underground will be more expensive. But how much more expensive? And can we amortize that cost?” said Kristopher Larson, DDA executive director.

“If we can go underground, how deep can we go and how many spaces can we get? Ultimately, what we want to explore is what we can do,” he added.

The idea is that putting cars below ground leaves more room for development and creates a cleaner and more attractive site line for businesses and those who visit the district.

“It will give us a rough idea of what is there,” said DDA Chairman Brian Harris of the study.

“The study will help us quantify this and give us a soil analysis,” said DDA Project Manager Tim Kelly.

According to the project’s timeline, the study is expected to be completed by mid-December. Work on Arena Place is projected to get underway in the first quarter of 2014.

One of the 11 underground ramps Carl Walker has constructed is below Michigan State University’s Secchia Center on Michigan Street.

“I think this is a very crucial step for us as we try to build a walkable downtown,” said Elissa Hillary, DDA board member and executive director of Local First.

In other parking-related news, city commissioners approved a three-year agreement last week between Parking Services and Grand Rapids Public Museum that allows the city department to operate the museum’s ramp on Front Street NW for an undisclosed management fee.

The contract is similar to the one Parking Services has with the Convention and Arena Authority to operate the underground ramp below DeVos Place convention center.

“The museum will purchase its own equipment,” said Kimberly Miller, parking manager for Parking Services. “We’re in the parking business and they’re in the museum business.”

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