City May Automate New Heartside Ramp

February 17, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — If the city builds a new parking ramp in the Cherry Street Landing sector of the Heartside Business District, the garage may become the first fully automated ramp in the city.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said she is thinking about buying three automated pay stations for the ramp from Amano of Rosedale, N.J., which provides parking control systems including security gates and card readers along with pay stations.

The three machines would cost Parking Services about $120,000, and Ritsema said it costs about $30,000 a year to have an employee staff a pay booth.

“At that rate, (the pay station) probably has a four-year payback,” said Ritsema.

The model Ritsema is considering is the AGP-7800 central pay station. It stands 63 inches tall, is 38 inches wide and 28 inches deep. It is made of sheet steel and has a fiberglass front cover that features a 15-inch flat panel display. It accepts credit cards, bills and coins and is secured by a multiple-lock system that contains an alarm. The pay station can be programmed from a PC.

“You see more of these in airports,” said Ritsema.

Ellis Parking Co. President Michael Ellis said he used one of the machines at a Chicago hotel recently.

“They work, and work well. It’s a whole new parking experience that people are going to have to get used to. It’s a communication issue,” said Ellis, whose firm owns the only private parking ramp in the city.

“It does take time for it to become fully automated,” he said, while adding that the hotel had two attendants on hand to explain to customers how the pay station works.

Ritsema said that she would likely have an employee at the ramp to assist parkers with the pay station, which is a bit different than the automated system being used at two downtown city-owned lots.

For instance, the pay station that would be used in the ramp doesn’t manage the parking time for specific spaces like those in the lots do. The Intella-Pay Payment Station in the lots is manufactured by a Canadian firm, Digital Pioneer Technologies Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia. Parking Services bought its first Intella-Pay in 2003.

The Heartside ramp would be built by Parking Services in a joint venture with Cherry Street JV LLC, a partnership between the DeVos family and Rockford Co. The six-story, 320-space ramp would go up at Commerce Avenue and Cherry Street, east of the Van Andel Arena. Design Plus has designed the ramp.

City commissioners must approve the reported $7 million project before construction can begin. Parking Services plans to pay about $1.75 million worth of the construction cost with cash and the remaining $5.5 million through bonds.

Ritsema said her department’s fund account wasn’t in as dire straits as the city’s general fund was, and would continue to look at adding the Amano machines to the ramp’s plan.

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