The parking issue: follow the money

April 15, 2016
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Downtown Grand Rapids is officially in the throes of a parking emergency, one that has come with warnings and statistical evidence for more than four years, even as taxpayer-funded parking areas were sold off to developers.

Despite this and recent private meetings between city officials and business owners in the Central Business District, the Parking Commission has approved a package of parking management changes for fiscal year 2017 that “helps solve” the problem by increasing shuttle rides from distant parking areas for the 65,964 commuters into the downtown, a number swelling with every improvement in the area economy. Still left out of the shuttle mentality are those who work in the city’s hot spots. The night shift at The B.O.B. and other venues can’t make the last bus at 10 p.m., and even while entertainment district employers are fighting to recruit and hire, the scenario does not make them a preferred employer. That, too, becomes a cost of doing business in 49503.

The Parking Commission apparently has not thought to multiply the city income tax times the burgeoning number of largely professional commuters nor compared it to what taxes are paid by residents moving into tax-free housing developments. Even those who may pay property taxes do not equal the amount of taxes paid by those employed in the city. Statistical data from 2013 shows 23,943 of the residents living in downtown commute out of downtown for jobs. The number of households within the 49503 ZIP code was 31,825 in the same year. That is the reality.

It is also important to note the city is acquiring more properties for public use, especially along the river. A drop in the number of downtown workers (income tax losses) combined with the amount of tax-free properties will not provide a healthy city revenue stream in coming decades.

It should be noted, too, that downtown professionals meet with clients from outside 49503 who need to park. Also, some “downtown workers” have jobs that require multiple trips in and out of the office each day. Both of these issues deepen the problem.

And despite the overwhelming number of “downtown employees,” no bureaubrat has met with those who own those businesses. The parking commissioners and “mobility” staff make guesses. In fact, the city mobility department bought into a contract with a California technology firm to “analyze existing parking services data.” The Business Journal suggests the analysis is as plain as the parking lot in front of commissioners or the downtown business owners.

To date, however, those charged with parking issues prefer only to discuss matters with like-minded “representatives” who are obviously off the mark. “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is not thoughtful conduct for city leaders. The mayor and city commissioners must beg the question.

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