Attention Turns To Center Parking

    GRAND RAPIDS — Now that a budget is in place and the final phase of construction is set to start in June, parking has become an issue for DeVos Place. After all, the convention center opens with a host of visiting woodworkers in December.

    The process to find parking for the building has already begun with the Downtown Development Authority agreeing to build a new surface lot on Seward Avenue NW for DASH West. The 242-space lot will replace one the city is losing, and the downtown shuttle service is expected to play a key role in chauffeuring conventioneers from their cars and hotels to DeVos Place and back.

    The lot, to be known as DASH 9, should be finished in August, months before the first convention christens the new building in early December. The DDA plans to build another lot near DASH 9, with 251 spaces, on Lake Michigan Drive next year for the system.

    Still, not every convention-goer will know about DASH, let alone ride it. And the 700 spaces in the DeVos Place underground parking ramp won’t be ready until a year after the Grand Gallery exhibit space begins exhibiting. Even when it is ready for business, some city officials have wondered out loud whether out-of-towners will be able to find an entrance to the ramp. There will be two, but neither will be in front of the building on Monroe Avenue.

    So where will attendees park? And will there be enough spaces for them? Those are two questions that Parking Commissioner Bob Sullivan asked last month, and Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema had answers for earlier this month.

    Ritsema recently told commissioners that the key parking location is the Government Center ramp, which has 921 spaces and is located under Calder Plaza across Monroe Avenue from DeVos Place. Currently she said there were 194 spaces there that could be used by conventioneers on weekdays, and that all 921 were available for evenings and weekends.

    Another 180 workweek spaces will be made available to conventioneers in Government Center, bringing the total to 374, when 180 monthly parkers move from it to the convention center facility once it opens late next year. Evening and weekend spaces will remain at 921.

    But she added that scenario only works if a proposed hotel isn’t built on Calder Plaza.

    Ritsema said talks she had with Gallium Group LLC, developers of the planned 400-room hotel, revealed that 235 spaces would be available for convention center use during the workweek if the hotel project went forward.

    That number works out to be 41 more spaces than are currently available, but 139 fewer than when the DeVos Place ramp opens. As for evenings and weekends, 571 spaces, and not 921, will be open to convention-goers in Government Center with the hotel operating on Calder Plaza.

    Ritsema told commissioners that Jack Buchanan, CEO of Blue Bridge Ventures and the catalyst behind the hotel his firm has proposed with Hines Interests LP of Houston, said he would need 250 of the 921 spaces in the ramp on weekdays — 230 for hotel guests and 20 for hotel employees — and 350 spaces on evenings and weekends.

    But Sullivan, who owns a couple of hotels in the area including the downtown Days Inn, felt those numbers were low. He thought Gallium Group would need to set aside about 500 spaces for guests of a 400-room hotel, double the number Buchanan quoted for daytime use.

    “Being in the hotel business, I can tell you that figure is short,” said Sullivan.

    Gallium has an option with the city through late October to buy Calder Plaza and the ramp for its hotel. If an agreement can be finalized with the city, construction would start in 2005. But for that to happen, Gallium has to move the city and county to new locations at no cost to taxpayers.

    “There are some big hurdles that they have to climb before they get there,” said Mayor John Logie.

    Ritsema reminded parking commissioners that the city would not own any parking near DeVos Place if the hotel transaction goes. The closest city-owned ramp to it would be at Lyon and Pearl. But the city would still have the DASH lots and service.

    The Convention and Arena Authority will own the DeVos Place ramp, which will have about 500 spaces available for attendees when it opens. Ellis Parking Co. and the Amway Grand Hotel will offer hundreds of more spaces in nearby ramps at Monroe and Lyon and Monroe and Pearl, respectively.           

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