When the Monroe Center parking ramp was completed, residents of City View Condominiums at 60 Monroe Center St. NW in downtown Grand Rapids thought they had secured parking for the life of the structure, but controversy erupted in March 2018 when the city’s parking services department said residents have no such claim to their parking spots.
According to a letter from Mobile GR and Parking Services to the City View Condo Association, the city intended to move City View residents parked at 18 designated residential parking spaces in the street-level lot of the Monroe Center structure.
Mobile GR Director Josh Naramore said in the letter the move followed a 2017 audit of operations identifying ways to expand the city’s parking services. When the condo association received the letter, Mobile GR had completed renovations of unused office space at 60 Ottawa Ave. NW near the Monroe Center ramp and had relocated parking enforcement and meter service operations to the new office.
According to the notice, the city was willing to help residents parked in the Louis Street lot relocate to other reserved parking spaces within the Monroe Center structure.
“We’re still giving them what they have now,” Naramore said. “It’s just not where they want it.”
Kathy Steindler, president of the City View Condo Association Board, asserted the change is indeed not where they want it. The move would place resident parking one level up within the structure, accessible via an entrance on Ionia Avenue, which Steindler said is not ideal considering its proximity to Van Andel Arena and 20 Monroe Live.
Steindler also said the Louis Street entrance provides an easier point of entry and exit compared to the Ionia Street entrance, and because the Louis Street portion is highly visible from street level, residents had the added benefit of security.
“People are paying a prime dollar to park there,” Steindler said. “The city says they need them to support their parking operations to the inconvenience of the residents.”
The condo association provided to the Business Journal a series of letters between City View and then-Parking Systems Director Pam Ritsema. According to the letters, the condo association was given the option to commit the 18 parking spaces in the Louis Street-level lot to a long-term lease agreement for the life of the structure.
Ritsema told City View in November 2003 that the condo association had until Sept. 1, 2004, to elect a long-term lease on the parking spots.
Pursuant of the agreement, the condo owner notified Ritsema in a letter dated Aug. 31, 2004, that the condo association had elected to reserve the parking spaces for the life of the building.
The Business Journal also covered the arrangements with the city back in 2004 when both the City View Condos project and the parking ramp were near completion. In addition to having the project located within the city’s near-tax-exempt renaissance zone, Jon Rooks, project developer at the time, said the guarantee of parking was critical to draw prospective residents to downtown.
"No bank would finance a project for downtown homes without a long-term guarantee of parking, and it certainly wouldn't be attractive to buyers," he told the Business Journal at the time.
Steindler echoed Rooks’ sentiment almost 15 years later by saying, “availability of parking to those residents is essential. People are willing to pay, there’s no question, but they need assurance that the space will be there for them.”
Naramore said Mobile GR made the decision to work collaboratively with City View tenants to relocate their parking within the Monroe Center structure, but Steindler claimed Mobile GR elected to move forward without the consent of the condo association.
Naramore originally approached the City View Condo Association Board in November 2017, Steindler said. When he asked the board if it would consider giving up the 18 spaces in the Louis Street lot, the board refused but considered keeping communications open.
“The understanding was he was going to reconsider this and come back to the board,” Steindler said.
But the condo association was surprised to receive a letter from Mobile GR in March announcing the city would be eliminating residential access to the Louis Street lot as of May 1. Steindler said the deadline was put on hold as the condo association tried to maintain an active dialogue with the city, and residents had until Aug. 1 to relocate.
To obtain proof of the agreement with the city, the condo association issued several Freedom of Information Act requests to see the city commission’s minutes from 2003 to 2005. Steindler said the city denied the condo association’s requests, saying no such records exist.
Naramore also asserted the reason the condo association’s FOIA request was not appealed was that there allegedly is no parking agreement with the city. Numerous searches through the city archives have turned up no documentation, and City View’s communications with Ritsema are all the city has on record.
The Business Journal also issued a FOIA request to the city attorney’s office and was denied on the grounds no documentation was found.