The month of May has brought a series of approvals for the Downtown Development Authority’s $10-million budget attending the GR Forward initiatives, including $2.63 million for a “mobility strategy” related to “bike-friendly” parking solutions, street and boulevard “improvements,” extended DASH service and “education outreach” for “options in and out of downtown.” The documents do not give even a nod to the continued plea from business owners and building owners in the downtown for a resolution to maxed-out parking availability. In fact, the several and increasing number of such complaints and suggestions from businesses is not even acknowledged. It is ignored.
As businesses leave the city for the suburbs they take, too, the income tax the city demands of every employee. Perhaps that offers yet another incentive to leave; employees could keep more of their paychecks.
The Business Journal has been reporting regularly on the impact, including the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce survey showing “parking” as the top issue for its members. Event and conference planners have reported to the Business Journal that parking options have become a bigger consideration and suburban venues are seeing an increase in business for that reason. Nonprofits, like the YWCA, which spent $7.2 million for its historic building renovation in 2016, are impeded from assisting clients (including abuse and sexual assault victims) for lack of parking.
The Business Journal notes similar stories in the city of Detroit, as reported by the Detroit Free Press on May 22. The Free Press cited both increasing rents and lack of parking as reason for nonprofit flight. The same complaints of business owners and nonprofits in the downtown centers on the number of times employees come and go from their offices during the business day. Accessible parking is a necessity and shuttle service is a productivity killer. Clients can find business service providers in the suburbs where parking is guaranteed and less time is wasted. It becomes a competitive advantage for businesses, established to make a profit and provide employment, and for nonprofits established to fund and provide for true community needs.
Some of the $2 million in funds for downtown management plans is specific to a “downtown speaker series” to “bring thought leaders in city building to Grand Rapids and advance key organization goals.” The amount is not specified. The example would be the speaker in early May who touted Chicago, Washington, D.C. and other major metro area programs predicated on the elimination of parking and vehicular traffic. Places with notable transit programs. Not like Grand Rapids where public transit is woefully lacking. The “speaker series” is propaganda funding. The Business Journal noted the speech immediately preceded the commission vote to approve continued funding for the “GR Forward” plan.
It is of concern for the continued prosperity of Grand Rapids’ downtown that the Business Journal advocates that city commissioners make time to meet with business owners and find solutions. It should be a priority.