Expanded Parking Is Likely

April 18, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — More may not always be the best choice. But when downtown shifts into an economic expansion mode, which apparently is on, more may be the only choice left.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said last week that the city-owned system had only 456 monthly parking cards to sell. At the start of the year, the department had 671 for sale. The city sold a third of its monthly parking inventory over the last quarter, meaning its total supply is nearly sold out.

"We're getting to our magic 400 number, where we seriously need to consider parking expansion," said Ritsema.

Parking Services had issued 6,515 monthly cards for its downtown system as of last week, a number that is up from the 6,010 cards it had in service a year ago. In January 2002, the department had only 5,794 monthly parking customers.

The number of total downtown parking spaces grew over the first quarter, too, as the last 355 spaces in the 685-space DeVos Place parking ramp opened for business in February.

Ritsema also announced that her department would not be investing in the parking ramp planned for the new four-tower medical development going up on Michigan Street, near Bostwick Avenue. The city had initially considered owning 500 of the 2,400 spaces the ramp plans to offer. But Ritsema said the project's rising construction costs and higher concrete prices were part of the reason why her department changed its mind.

"The price is escalating," she said. "It was more than we could comfortably finance."

Ritsema said another factor in the decision was the ramp's revenue flow. She was concerned that the city spaces would sit empty most evenings and weekends as the facility is being built to handle weekday parking for the medical and bio-med professions. If the ramp were closer to an entertainment district, Ritsema would have felt better about the facility's revenue stream.

By shying away from the development, Parking Commission Chairman Jack Hoffman estimated Parking Services would have an additional $10 million to invest in the downtown system. At the same time, Hoffman noted the Michigan Street hill area would still get its much-needed parking ramp. But instead of public dollars being used to build a part of it, private funds will build all of it.

"I see this as a positive," said Hoffman.

Ritsema said Parking Services would consider operating the "Pill Hill" ramp, if asked to do so. Michael Ellis, president of the family-owned Ellis Parking Co., said his firm would also consider doing the same.

A decision hasn't been made yet on how and where Parking Services will expand. More might be known next month when the final parking and transit report from the Heartside Business District study is due. But Ritsema did tell the Business Journal that it was a matter of "when," and not "if," Parking Services would build a ramp south of Van Andel Arena on Ionia Avenue.    

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