Grand Rapids may not have the solution to the city’s parking crunch just yet, but officials are willing to listen to questions.
Following the results from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual membership survey, which revealed lack of parking was a primary concern for many local business owners, last week the chamber hosted a discussion addressing the topic. Before a near-capacity conference room in the offices of Blue25, Mobile GR Manager Josh Naramore gave a brief presentation before taking questions from the crowd.
Setting aside the question of where the meeting’s attendees parked that morning, Naramore opened by outlining some changes that had gone into effect in September with the city’s adoption of recommendations laid out in the GR Forward plan’s parking and mobility study. Those changes included rerouting and increasing the frequency of the DASH service, implementing on- and off-street parking rate changes and expanding parking supply.
Naramore noted while those changes did yield some alleviation of the city’s parking swell, the sacrifice of about 600 spots to make way for the development of a mixed-use movie theater complex has the city nearing capacity.
When the development is complete, it will feature a 900-space parking structure, a net gain of about 300 spots. But when construction on the development begins this summer, it will force the closure of two city lots south of Van Andel Arena, home to 595 parking spaces.
In all, Naramore said the city is operating at about 95 percent occupancy for monthly parking downtown.
“Which is the first time that we’ve ever had that happen,” Naramore said. “We do still acknowledge that there is a strategic need to increase supply, as the current supply cannot meet the short-term demand and expected transition in the future.”
In working to increase the amount of parking spots in the city, Naramore said the city is focused on building surface parking lots on both privately and city-owned property in lieu of parking structures. Naramore cited quicker turnaround time for implementation and lower costs — with structures costing about $30,000-$35,000 per parking space to construct — as reasons for the preference for surface lots.
Mobile GR has filed paperwork with the city planning commission for the construction of a standalone parking lot at 36 McConnell St. SW, across from the Downtown Market. That proposal will go before the planning commission at its Feb. 23 meeting, with a proposal for a second lot along the Michigan Street Corridor expected to be submitted later this spring.
The plan is for those lots to be open by the summer, bringing 450 parking spots to the city, Naramore said.
When the floor opened for questions from the assembled business owners, the frustration with the city’s parking constrictions was evident. Leasing companies said they have lost tenants due to the lack of parking downtown, and a concern was voiced that potential employers looking to move downtown may choose to go elsewhere if they can’t find parking for their employees.
X Ventures President Chip Bowling said the lack of parking has taken away one of the primary incentives that made working in downtown so attractive many years ago.
“As a brokerage company, a lot of these tenants now that we represent downtown are beginning to say, ‘Take us to the ’burbs,’” Bowling said.
He added the tenants he has been talking to are ones occupying a large chunk of office space downtown, up to 20,000-square-foot spaces.
“If they go, it’s going to start leaving big gaps downtown, and I just think it’s important to people that own real estate down here, these corners that have invested millions and millions of dollars into these buildings, to provide a home for these tenants,” Bowling said.
Naramore reiterated a point he made throughout the discussion, which is that while the city works to create more parking options and squeeze extra spaces out of the existing infrastructure, there is no one “silver bullet” to the city’s dilemma. But suggestions are welcomed.
“We really appreciate your questions, comments, suggestions on the best way to engage you moving forward in finding solutions that work for all of the different businesses and people who are trying to make this a great city,” he said.