Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

City stalls parking resolution

Commissioners’ tie vote defeats motion to require Mobile GR to add more parking downtown.

December 15, 2017
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Saying it already is working to add to the parking supply downtown, the Grand Rapids City Commission defeated a parking resolution by one of its members on a split vote last week.

The walk-on resolution, introduced by Commissioner Dave Shaffer in the commission’s Dec. 12 meeting, was defeated by a 3-3 vote, with Commissioner Senita Lenear absent, and Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and commissioners Ruth Kelly and Joe Jones voting no.

Mobile GR and Parking Services is the Grand Rapids city department in charge of overseeing public parking. Downtown parking capacity has been at 95 percent for several months.

The resolution asked the commission to “instruct” Mobile GR to analyze the potential for adding parking via a proposed library parking ramp, public-private partnerships to increase the supply of parking downtown, and determining factors for potential projects, including demand, return on investment and the best potential land use.

Shaffer said he felt the resolution was necessary, given the likelihood of parking soon reaching full capacity.

“It’s important to acknowledge and send that signal that we need expediency, and it’s important to move forward,” he said.

Bliss objected to Shaffer’s wording in the resolution, saying Mobile GR already is working on the goals he asked them to expedite.

“The resolution implies we are not working on addressing parking needs in our city, and that is not accurate,” she said.

“We have been working with the community for the past two years on seeking and implementing both short- and long-term solutions. This work requires thoughtful planning to ensure we are making the right investments for both today and well into the future.

“We need to thoroughly vet potential projects and plans before we bring them to a vote by the city commission, and that was not the case with this resolution.”

Kelly said she believes the resolution, which the commission did not learn of until Dec. 8, circumvented the process already in place with the parking department.

“For me, it was really about process. I don’t mean to imply we’re not willing to consider it, because (it already was) on the agenda for Mobile GR’s meeting on Thursday (Dec. 14),” she said.

“I was concerned about leap-frogging the process because these appointed folks are in place to look at all options.”

Josh Naramore, Mobile GR and Parking Services manager, said the Mobile GR Commission — a mayor-appointed and city commission-confirmed group of 13 volunteer community members — decided Dec. 14 to keep moving forward with one of those options.

The group discussed making a recommendation to the Grand Rapids City Commission that the Grand Rapids Public Library Main (Ryerson) Branch surface parking lot be converted into a mixed-use parking structure with about 360 spaces.

Following a 2017 study, four possible concepts for the lot were developed by Grand Rapids-based Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber and consultant Carl Walker, as the Business Journal reported Dec. 11.

Naramore said the next step the commission discussed is to refine the project proposal.

“They decided to make a recommendation to the city commission to continue to refine the library project, which doesn’t mean we’re going to build something tomorrow; we just need to do the work now,” he said.

“Generally, most people were supportive, they just wanted us to be cautious about cost, make sure anything we do was context sensitive, could help the library, have park space or green space, and fit with community goals.”

He said Mobile GR expects to present its ideas to the city commission sometime after Jan. 1. Then they would begin working on requests for proposals for developing the city-owned property.

Naramore noted some of the factors squeezing parking are the lack of availability of public property left to build on, short of razing buildings, along with the ongoing work on Areas 4 and 5 that is tying up hundreds of parking spaces until construction wraps up.

“It’s also why we’ve been trying to look at more creative options to provide mobility options for people. If we could get 10 percent of the people to walk who work downtown, we would free up parking,” he said, noting he walks more than a mile to work each day.

He also mentioned DASH shuttle service and biking as alternatives.

Josh Lunger, director of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said in last year’s government affairs survey, parking and talent shortages were the top two concerns for chamber members.

He expressed disappointment that Shaffer’s resolution was defeated, but that either way, the chamber will continue as a “committed partner” of the city as it considers “transportation solutions.”

“It’s a very important issue for the city, and it’s a good thing that we continue to have debates about these live-work challenges and that people want to work here rather than the fact that we couldn’t bring people in like a few years ago,” he said.

He said the chamber sent out a survey Dec. 11 with many of the same questions as last year, and it already had 300 responses within two days. The chamber is projecting its annual government affairs survey, issued in January, will garner another 700 responses.

“We’ll be engaging with those folks to make sure we are working with the city commission and staff on how to make sure our members are informed about how to address these challenges,” he said.

“Obviously, this is a huge priority for us, is trying to provide employees options for meeting their needs, and it’s continuing to be a message we hear.”

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