City Pushes Downtown Visitor Parking


    GRAND RAPIDS — Business owners along and near Monroe Center may get a parking break this spring, if city commissioners let Parking Services spend $50,000 on a second access system for the Monroe Center parking ramp.

    Parking commissioners recently approved a plan that would set aside 150 spaces on the lower levels of the ramp at

    Louis Street


    Ottawa Avenue

    for visitors and move monthly parkers currently on those levels to the upper floors. It’s roughly the same plan the city uses in its ramp at

    Pearl Street


    Ionia Avenue

    , which has the same readable auto-access system that Parking Services wants to buy for MonroeCenter

    “It’s not just to accommodate Leo, but the other businesses on MonroeCenter. We want them to find an easier place to park,” said Pam Ritsema, Parking Services director, of clients that come downtown.

    Leo Beil, who owns Leo’s on the ground floor of the MonroeCenter ramp, said he has lost regular customers because they haven’t wanted to park on the facility’s top levels. He also was concerned about all the transient spaces that have been lost recently in downtown.

    When the MonroeCenter lot became the site of the new art museum, 150 visitor spaces were removed from the city inventory. Not long ago there were two lots and a ramp that offered visitors 90 minutes of free parking. Now only the MonroeCenter ramp has free visitor parking, but the time limit has been reduced to an hour.

    In November, Beil told parking commissioners that customer traffic to Leo’s fell from 25 percent to 40 percent on certain days after the Monroe Center lot closed and Blue Cross Blue Shield moved into the former Steketee’s building on Monroe Center. Blue Cross is the city’s largest monthly client in the MonroeCenter ramp, holding 260 cards.

    Ritsema said the access system is necessary so only monthly parkers can reach the upper floors and guarantee that visitors wouldn’t take their spaces. She added that they would get notice of the change at least a month before it takes place.

    Ritsema said if monthly parkers aren’t pleased with the new plan they could move to the Ottawa Fulton ramp across the street, which has a lower monthly charge, or they could buy a reserved space on a lower level in the MonroeCenter ramp.

    “I think we’re going to have to do this type of shuffling until another form of transportation comes along,” said Parking Commissioner Dan Barcheski.

    Ritsema thought the second access system, which reads cars automatically, could be installed by early April or possibly in March.

    At the same time commissioners ratified the redistribution of spaces in the ramp, they also approved a parking agreement with the Cityview Condominium Association for 19 metered spaces on a ground-floor section of the MonroeCenter ramp. The meters will be removed and the spaces will be reserved for the association.

    The association, representing homeowners in the Select Bank Building at 80 Monroe Center, dropped its requests to re-stripe the area in order to park more than 19 vehicles there, install a garage door to seal off the section, and offer valet parking from the ramp.

    Cityview will pay the city about $35,000 a year for the spaces, which offer 24-hour access, through an ordinance city commissioners passed last year.    

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