Editorial

City can’t fix the parking problem it created

February 10, 2017
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Grand Rapids Business Journal has been reporting on and opining about the eventuality of an employer parking crisis downtown since 2012. At that time, the Business Journal reported the city response: “The people who want to be downtown are going to be downtown.” In 2014, Advantage Sales moved 300 employees to a suburban office park. It wasn’t the only company to do so.

The ignorance and arrogance of such a response now is evident, as several downtown business owners reported abandoned plans for large office tenants now moving to the suburbs instead and made reversals of planned expansions within downtown. Parking for monthly parkers now is at 95 percent of all available (and according to some of those employers, that is 100 percent of the work day); the waiting lists for openings are unanswered, and by summer, another 595 parking spots will disappear south of the Van Andel Arena for the mixed-use movie theater and residential complex.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce held a meeting for its members last week, following the “surprise” of a survey showing members had concerns about parking. It was only a surprise to the chamber, however, which participated in the “transparent, public input” meetings as “representational” of the business community. The chamber approved of the GR Forward (“Backward”) plan. The Business Journal learned the chamber’s concern was heightened when its downtown members started canceling their memberships this winter over the rift.

Last July, the Business Journal noted the process and the resulting “Backward” plan were hogwash. Far from a “study,” it is a list of ideas. It is not planning; it is the absence of planning. The Business Journal noted, this “planning” is incompetent and incomplete — at the expense of city taxpayers and those who work in the city and pay income taxes — and Assistant City Manager Eric DeLong and city commissioners should take the heat. The Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. group operating the city Downtown Development Authority and its several millions in funding, and city commissioners who have oversight, would have 61,580 commuters to downtown offices (2011 U.S. Census data) “modify behavior” and ride the bus (or a bike).

That’s not working.

Business owners last week put the city on notice: X Ventures noted tenants the company represents now are beginning to request placement in the suburbs, also noting these are large tenants occupying “large chunks of office space downtown, up to 20,000-square-foot spaces.” Company President Bill Bowling told city mobility department representatives, “If they go, it’s going to start leaving big gaps downtown, and I just think it’s important to people that own real estate down here, these corners that have invested millions and millions of dollars into these buildings, to provide a home for these tenants.”

As Tom Rosenbach, managing partner at Beene Garter, told the city in response to its plan to provide a surface lot within four years, “Business owners can’t wait four years to make business decisions.”

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