Work Starts On New Ramp

December 29, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Work has begun on the city’s newest and costliest per-space parking ramp, which is expected to become the city’s first automated parking structure.

The six-story ramp is going up on a half-acre on the northwest corner of Commerce Avenue and Cherry Street, just southeast of Van Andel Arena. The ramp’s 313 spaces should cure at least some of the parking maladies that businesses and schools in that section of Heartside and the Cherry Street Landing district have had since the City Centre ramp closed a few years ago and was then demolished.

“This is something that we’ve been envisioning for the Cherry Street Landing district for a long time,” said John Wheeler, CEO of Rockford Companies, which developed the district first with SIBSCO LLC and then with the RDV Corp.

Wheeler said the Thomas M. Cooley Law School at 111 Commerce Ave. SW has reserved all the spaces on the first level, while those on floors two through six will be open to the public.

“Being able to provide Cooley with needed spaces and still create public parking for the other neighborhood components brings a huge sense of accomplishment to all who have been involved in the Cherry Street Landing project for 10 years,” he added.

Rockford Construction, a division of Rockford, was low bidder for the ramp project and the company started construction a few weeks ago. Rockford Development Group, also a division of Rockford, bought the property 10 years ago and originally intended to build a small parking garage on the site exclusively for the law school.

But the city’s Parking Services Department purchased the land from Rockford Development for $925,000 last year and then paid $386,000 to Design Plus for the ramp’s preliminary design.

“We have been part of the Cherry Street Landing project since we worked on the first master plans for the area 10 years ago,” said John Weiss, president and CEO of Design Plus. “This piece to the neighborhood is, in a sense, a tribute to this shared vision and a successful private-public partnership.”

Construction has been pegged at costing $7.6 million, with the ramp’s total cost topping out at $10.45 million. Parking Services is spending about $3 million in cash on the project, while $7.2 million of the total is being funded by a 30-year bond package.

Each space is expected to cost the city $30,456 to build — the most ever for a ramp in the city — and that figure doesn’t include the property’s purchase price. Even so, the ramp could turn into a cash cow for the city — while being priced lower than other nearby city ramps.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said monthly parking has been projected to cost $110 in the new ramp, a charge $10 to $25 less per month than other downtown ramps.

“If the ramp is full and is used for (arena) event parking, at $110 a month, that should cover debt service, operations and maintenance,” said Ritsema.

City CFO Scott Burher projected that the ramp would be worth $700,000 in revenue in its first full year of operation, while expenses should run about $225,000 over those months. Why such a large margin, one that could nearly triple expenditures?

The ramp will be automated, a first in the city.

Parking Services plans to buy up to three AGP-7800 automated pay stations from Amano of Rosedale, N.J., for $40,000 each. The pay stations are 63 inches tall, 38 inches wide and 28 inches deep, are made of sheet steel, and have fiberglass front covers that feature 15-inch flat panel displays. The stations accept credit cards, bills and coins, and can be programmed from a personal computer.

With a total investment of $120,000 for the machines versus a cost of roughly $30,000 a year for Parking Services to have an employee in a booth taking payments, Ritsema said the department would recoup its investment in about four years.

“This reduces the error rate,” said Ritsema of the stations. “I have a personal philosophy that if you can automate instead of doing it by hand, you do it better that way.”

Wheeler said he expects work on the new ramp to be completed by December.    

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