GRAND RAPIDS — Even though the parking crunch has loosened recently in downtown, business owners on Michigan Street are trying to prevent a crunch of their own from taking place in the district next year.
They say the current situation along one of the city’s major east-west arteries is tight now, especially in the hill section near Bostwick Avenue and when classes are in session at Grand Rapids Community College. But they fear conditions will get worse when Grand Valley State University opens a nursing school near the hill next fall.
Besides that new facility, three other building projects are on tap for the area. Spectrum Health has indicated it will build a new cancer center and a new heart facility there, while the Van Andel Institute plans to put up its second research building nearby in a few years.
So where will all the drivers drive and parkers park? That is precisely what members of the Michigan Street Area Business Association want to know.
“There is a lot of congestion early in the morning around Grand Rapids CC. There are, some times, two to three blocks of stopped traffic when they’re trying to accommodate the students at peak times,” said Tom Sutton, association president.
“That is somewhat of a concern. But I think the real concern is that the Grand Valley State University opening next year is going to bring even more students into the area,” he added. “That is going to cause some parking concerns and traffic concerns.”
So the business association recently gave the city a $500 check for a traffic and parking study in the district, as the rule requires, and parking commissioners approved the request.
“We would rather address this now rather than wait until then, and have it take even longer to find solutions,” said Sutton, who manages the Michigan Street Bank One branch.
But the cost to do a full-blown study by a professional consultant would run between $60,000 and $90,000, the highest for a neighborhood parking study so far. Parking Services Director Ted Perez said the cost shouldn’t be interpreted as over-priced, but it just may be too expensive for the city and association.
“It impressed me as too expensive, but others may see it as a great bargain. It impresses me as too expensive and if I was to hazard a guess, I think it probably would impress others as too expensive, as well,” said Perez.
“I don’t know that the City Commission, for example, has any framework for considering whether a $60,000 to $90,000 parking study is a good deal or not, in what is essentially a near city center neighborhood,” he added. “But this sure creates an arch in my eyebrows.”
This particular study cost so much because the district is one of the city’s largest, stretching east from Bostwick to Plymouth and then south from I-196 to Fountain. But the sector most at risk to a potential crisis runs east on Michigan from Bostwick to College and south from Hastings to Fountain. Business owners said parking is already in short supply there, and that sector is where most of the traffic backups occur.
“As Spectrum continues to grow, their parking needs are going to be greater. With Grand Valley and with Van Andel, they know that with their growth they’re going to need more parking,” said Sutton.
“And even though that surrounds a localized area on the top of the hill, some of the merchants down the hill toward Diamond are saying that the sprawl up there is going to eventually affect us down here, especially with the students.”
A portion of the study will likely include the role public transportation can potentially play in the district. But the business association isn’t convinced that buses or shuttles will have a lot of appeal to the students.
“While they’re looking for parking, that is going to put a lot of traffic through the area,” said Sutton. “So we want the study done to really figure out what the impact will be and what we may need to do.”
Adding to the problem is that many of the side streets along Michigan are residential and narrow. Sutton said residents are also concerned about having a few thousand more cars in the neighborhood looking for parking spots.
If Perez was to direct the study he said he wouldn’t use a geographic boundary approach. Rather, he would look at who is generating traffic into the district, and examine whether their plans include parking and shuttling and then try to determine how successful those efforts might be. He would also sample residents to learn how many are losing street spots to those coming into the area.
“That would be helpful to know because it gives us an important understanding of the existing condition,” he said.
But before a study gets started, Perez said the city and business association have to decide how much each is willing to spend for a study and spend on the findings.
“Maybe that suggests a larger role from the neighborhood in funding the study,” he said.
When parking commissioners approved the study last month, some noted that the cost to the district would probably top the required $500 the business association has already paid because of the area’s size. But at the same time, they also recognized the need for the study.
“We watch buildings go up and demand increases,” said parking commissioner Kevin Denhof, also chief of security for the Van Andel Institute. “We see the crunch coming.”