Economic Development and Government

Parking rate changes coming to downtown

There is sufficient space now, but development may change that.

October 24, 2014
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Currently, downtown Grand Rapids has sufficient parking available based on demand; however, new development could lead to a shortage.

That was one of the key messages reported to Grand Rapids Parking Services commissioners recently by Gerald Salzman, a senior planner with parking consultant firm Desman Associates.

Desman Associates was paid by the city to conduct a parking needs and operations assessment.

The objective of the study is to evaluate the overall demand and determine an appropriate long-term parking solution that will address management, enforcement practices, restriction policies and investment strategies for public parking in the downtown area. The study will then be included in the transportation portion of the city’s master plan, which will be completed by Interface Studio and Sam Schwartz Engineering next year.

While the city has enough parking to satisfy current needs, stakeholder meetings conducted by Desman Associates found many business owners don’t believe that to be the case because they can’t get the parking permits they require for their workforce.

Salzman said one reason is the location of parking.

While there is plenty of parking overall, some of the most coveted lots are reaching levels of more than 80 percent capacity, while others aren’t even half full.

A solution is to get businesses to purchase parking passes in other lots.

Salzman acknowledged the idea might be a hard one to sell because Grand Rapids residents are used to being able to park close by and often are put off by the idea of having to walk several blocks between parking and their destination.

“People in Grand Rapids are conditioned to parking at the front door,” Salzman said.

He said businesses should pay a higher monthly fee for parking in the high-demand lots.

“Something has to give — it’s either price or convenience — and that should be the goal as you go forward — to match that up,” he said. “In the long-term future, if you want to park at the front door, then you are going to pay more. If you don’t care so much about that, you can park for a much lower rate (farther away).”

He noted currently some low-capacity lots might be overpriced while some of the high-capacity lots should undergo rate increases, particularly near Van Andel Arena.

“The area lots by the arena, historically they were DASH lots. They were considered remote before downtown migrated there, so logically they were at the lower rates. But it may be time to change that,” Salzman said.

He said monthly rates for city ramps range from $119 to $151, while monthly rates for surface lots range from $27 to $76.

Splitting the city into three sections, Salzman reported the northern sector is about 75 percent occupied with an average rate of $113; the western zone is about 69 percent occupied with an average rate of $33; and the southern zone is 73 percent occupied with an average rate of $78.

“I think you will be hearing from us a lot about trying to balance the demand and the rates in a more market-driven way,” he said.

Parking could become an issue if surface lots are removed from downtown as additional development projects come to fruition.

Looking at parking currently, the Area 1 lot was recently sold and is under development, and there is a three-year option agreement for Area 5 between the Downtown Development Authority and Jackson Entertainment LLC.

“The numbers suggest you can take out Area 2 (which is operated by the Convention and Arena Authority and will probably become a mixed use building with some parking) and relocate people if you push people particularly to the eastern lots,” Salzman said. “Within an essentially two-block radius, people can be displaced without any capacity issues, forgetting behavioral issues. When you get to Area 5, if that were to go, when you get two of them out, that is when you really have a problem.”

He said it is likely new development projects will replace some of the parking being lost in downtown, but details are unknown.

“If you told me the developments were absolutely going to take care of themselves, I would say you probably shouldn’t do anything right now,” Salzman said. “You should just wait and see if you can manipulate people around by rates.

“If you say the city is going to take on the responsibility of providing the parking for their demand, then I think you need to look at one of those two lots by the arena as the site for a significant amount of parking to take care of that whole thing.”

Salzman’s overall recommendation was to take a wait-and-see approach and use rate changes to adjust capacity in the different lots.

Another key finding has to do with the use of on-street metered parking after 6 p.m.

Salzman said Grand Rapids is missing out on a key revenue opportunity by allowing visitors to downtown to use on-street parking for free after 6 p.m.

“Late night occupancy is often very high because it’s not enforced, so it’s free,” Salzman said. “I think that is an issue, at least in certain areas where downtown has become much more night-time oriented. Everyone doesn’t go home at 6 anymore.”

He suggested the city should consider longer enforcement hours and take advantage of technology that allows for rate changes.

“Meters are so savvy these days,” he said. “They can be programmed for events. … You (can) have a much higher rate — a $5 rate or $10 rate for the few hours around an event — even when the normal rate is $1. Instead of giving away essentially free parking for that many people in the area, it captures that revenue or encourages them to be off street.”

Rate variability will be an important tool for the city going forward, Salzman said. He said the city should consider changing its process for implementing rate changes so it can be done as needed without having to go through the ordinance process.

“There ought to be a mechanism where the parking department can adjust rates in a more fluid way relative to demand,” Salzman said. “Maybe a cap on rates and then within that, it can go up or down.”

The information provided is one piece of a full report by Desman Associates that will be submitted later this year and will include suggested changes and strategy for consideration by the parking commissioners.

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