Arlen Smith wants a study to find ways to improve the parking situation in the Creston Business District where he works.
Smith, president of Central Interconnect Inc. at 1425 Coit Ave. NE, presented his request at the Parking Commission meeting Thursday morning. The Creston Business Association sent him to the meeting with a letter voicing concern about the lack of space in the area’s East and West lots.
“And as far as future needs, the five-year plan, Creston is finally being discovered,” he said.
“What I’ve noticed is, anytime you add anybody or take anybody away, it seems to make a huge impact on our parking availability because we’re that close (to not having any),” he said.
The three kinds of parkers in the Creston district, Smith said, are residential parkers who live in the neighborhood, commercial parkers who are generally all-day office workers, and retail parkers who come to shop, have lunch and other short-term activities.
But parking space in the lots has essentially run out, he said, and attempts to relieve parking congestion have not served as long-term solutions. Although parking is adequate for right now, he said neighborhood growth will soon exceed the available space.
The activity of 616 Development, which has a number of upcoming projects in the neighborhood, is part of the reason, Smith said. 616 requires 120 spaces for its new condo/retail project, he said.
“I’ve had the people from the (O’Brien & O’Brien dentist office) tell me they’ve had people call and complain that they couldn’t find parking so they left and didn’t make it to their appointment,” he said. “And when we have snow, that stresses out the lots, particularly in the West Lot, where they have the snow in the corner. That takes away the little availability that we do have in that lot.”
Smith showed photos of the lots at 2 p.m. on a typical workday. Only a handful of parking spaces were available in both lots combined. Whenever there is an event going on nearby, for example at the popular Rezervoir Lounge, the West Lot is filled to capacity.
“We’re looking for a long-term resolution,” he said. “We have to have parking requirements determined prior to having the growth happen so that we have an organized growth in our business district.”
Pam Ritsema, managing director of Parking Services, told Smith that although there are future developments planned, they will be mixed use and present a great opportunity for shared parking.
Currently, there’s not a demonstrated need for a parking study, she concluded.
“Is parking in those surface lots going to get more uncomfortable as we go forward? Yes, probably. Do we have employees who ride to work and park all day long who might be able to use multi-mobile solutions? Yes. Is the city’s political will to add additional surface parking? Probably not,” she said.
“So, it does point out that our policy needs to be updated because our policy is solely parking focused and our future is not going to be parking focused. So, that’s the long way of saying, my recommendation is to take no action at this point, or to recommend a mobility study rather than a parking study.”
Peter Varga, CEO at The Rapid, also noted a mobility study might be warranted.
Smith responded that the majority of the people who use the lots are from commercial entities, and ride-sharing does not work for their situation.
“I’ve spoken about that with other businesses in the area. These people come to work from all over West Michigan … and they need their vehicles because they’re coming and going throughout the day, so that doesn’t really lend itself to shared parking,” he said.
Smith suggested a parking gate on the lots might work to give employees more parking and push retail parkers to use street meters.
Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., had another suggestion.
“The lot is free to park in, and a general rule of parking is: If you’re over-parked, you’re underpriced,” said Guy. “One thing we could do is analyze the potential to put a pricing structure on these lots and manage the demand in that way.”
In the end, Smith’s request for a study was not brought to a vote.