City CAA Agree On DeVos Parking

February 2, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Convention and Arena Authority gave their blessing last week to a parking agreement with the city on the DeVos Place underground ramp, which partially opened to the public less than two weeks ago.

Most likely, however, the contract got the board’s approval because it has a short life span of only 17 months.

The sticky point in the agreement is that the city and Kent County can send employees parked in the Government Center ramp across Monroe Avenue to the DeVos Place ramp and lease monthly spaces in the new ramp for $40 a month, while the public will be charged $125 per month — which also is the going rate in the Government Center ramp.

The revenue from the DeVos Place ramp goes to the authority and the board wants to maximize the value of those spaces because the new convention center is expected to lose $1.61 million this fiscal year, a projection that was made without including any revenue from the ramp as no one knew back when the forecast was made when it would open.

On top of that, the estimated surplus from Van Andel Arena, which the CAA also gets, was recently reduced by $130,000 to $1.33 million from its projection of $1.46 million. The surplus has been targeted to soak up much of the red ink DeVos Place is expected to spill.

But leasing spaces to the city and county for less than a third of the market rate doesn’t maximize the value of those spaces to the CAA, especially when there isn’t a limit on how many spaces the governments can rent.

Compounding the issue further is board members feel the city and county have earned the right to lease spots in the ramp because both units gave land to the project.

The city-owned Grand Center ramp was demolished to make room for DeVos Place, and the city’s Police Department and court and the county’s courts moved to get out of its way.

“This was part of the negotiations for the property,” said CAA member Steven Heacock, former Kent County chairman, “but we should know what the number is.”

The parking agreement is good through June 30, 2005, which marks the end of a fiscal year for the city. But it’s almost certain to be revised before that date, and how many spaces can be leased to the city and county could be known even before all 690 spaces open to the public in March 2005.

Kent County Fiscal Services Director Robert White told the board the new ramp should be worth several hundred thousand dollars over expenses each year, but he added that more time was needed to determine a more accurate figure.

“We don’t know what the utilization of that building will be, but we will have a better idea in 17 months,” he said.

Other points in the contract calls for the city’s Parking Services department to operate and maintain the ramp, and for every space in it lost to the transfer of Government Center parkers, a space in the Government Center ramp has to be set aside for visitors to DeVos Place. But revenue from the Government Center ramp goes into the city’s general fund and not to the CAA.

As of last week, the city hadn’t announced it would be shifting employees to the DeVos Place ramp, while the county estimated that it would likely transfer about 100. Kent County pays the going monthly rate in the Government Center ramp, so sending 100 parkers to the new ramp would save the county roughly $8,500 each month.

DeVos Place opened 330 of the ramp’s spaces to the public on Jan. 23. Rates at the new ramp are the same as those charged in the Government Center facility.           

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