Parking Lot Key To Downtown GH

November 28, 2003
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GRAND HAVEN — What is now a public parking lot could very well, in conceptual terms, represent a key to the future health of the downtown business district in Grand Haven.

In examining the business district, a consulting firm suggests that perhaps — and just perhaps — the parking lot at the corner of Harbor Drive and Washington Street, where the downtown meets the waterfront, is a good place to develop new retail and office space.

Allowing development on such a high-profile corner would connect the city's popular waterfront that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually with the adjoining downtown business district, said planner Chester Hill of the Johnson Hill Land Ethics Studio.

"That particular corner is critically important. It's right on the waterfront and so many things are going on there," Hill said. "It's an extremely little piece of property in the project zone."

Hill offered the idea during a recent meeting to bring city and business leaders up to date on an ongoing study of the downtown that will provide the basis for formulating a new long-term strategic plan. The city retained the Ann Arbor-based Johnson Hill Land Ethics Studio to analyze possible future improvements for the business district.

In an open house late last month, Johnson Hill planners echoed the sentiments of a previous economic analysis that suggested that allowing and encouraging new development and redevelopment of properties in and around downtown can help increase the business district's health and viability for years to come.

"There are a lot of underutilized parcels downtown," said Johnson Hill planning consultant Greg Holcombe said. "There's an opportunity here — prime opportunity to revitalize Washington Street."

And that opportunity exists not just along the main street through downtown that leads to the waterfront. Adjoining and connector streets have "great potential" for new development and redevelopment, Hill said.

But to encourage that new investment, downtown first has to settle on a plan for the future.

The Johnson Hill study is part of a three-pronged approach toward formulating a new strategic plan for downtown Grand Haven. The previously conducted economic analysis offered, from a market perspective, what businesses and the city need to do to assure the success of downtown, which is now in a stage of transformation from a primarily retail shopping hub to a mixture of residential dwellings above storefronts, restaurants, professional offices and specialty retail outlets.

Johnson Hill planners, in focusing on infrastructure and policy issues, will present their final report to the city on Dec. 8. When combined with the economic analysis and a study of parking and traffic, the Johnson Hill report will provide the basis for drafting a long-term strategic plan for the downtown.

The consulting firm's report will focus in part on public and private policy recommendations and guidelines to use in planning downtown's future at a time when retail competition in the area is intensifying.

The broader strategic plan, Holcombe said during the Nov. 18 open house, should ultimately spell out what should occur in downtown, prioritize when it should occur and how to fund it.

"It really puts in order the things you need to do first," Holcombe said. "It will put in place the clarity you all need so you know what happens next."

And once that clarity is in place, the city can expect to see increased interest from parties that wish to make an investment in the business district. Raising the stakes, and possibly the hopes, of the present planning process, Johnson Hill principal Peter Kumble told the approximately 100 people attending the open house that a good strategic plan will spur inquiries that lead to new investments in downtown.

"If you want to invite the right people to your house, you have to set a proper table," Kumble said. 

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