Members of the Grand Rapids Parking Commission gave their approval recently to a new and fairly ambitious incentive program that Parking Services hopes will fill vacant spaces in four of the city-owned downtown ramps.
Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema told commissioners that revenue to three of the ramps — located beneath Calder Plaza, at Ottawa and Fulton, and at Pearl and Ionia — was down this past fiscal year by as much as 19 percent from the previous year because demand has shifted to lower-priced city-owned lots. The fourth ramp, which opened a few months ago at Commerce and Weston, is about half full.
In all, Ritsema said she has 625 spaces available and will offer discounts to fill the void until the economy picks up and demand increases.
One of those discounts has already started. The department wants to open up some spaces in the Area 6A lot on Cherry Street between Ellsworth and Ionia avenues to accommodate the residents of Hopson Flats at 212 Grandville Ave. SW, which mostly houses college students. Those residents currently park in a lot behind Founders Brewing Co. at 235 Grandville Ave. SW. But Founders is expanding operations into the lot, eliminating those spaces.
In the meantime, the Area 6A lot is full. So Parking Services is offering monthly cardholders in the Area 6A lot an incentive to move to one of the four ramps in order to make room for Hopson Flats residents. Monthly parkers in the lot can park in a ramp for $40 a month for up to 12 months, a charge that is about a third of the ramps’ regular monthly cost. In comparison, a monthly card in the Area 6A lot costs $36.75.
Another incentive is targeted at businesses. Parking Services is reviving a program it started in 1995 that was last used in 2003 when Blue Cross Blue Shield moved to Monroe Center. The program offers a firm that locates in downtown a 50 percent discount on monthly ramp fees for six months if it agrees to a parking lease that runs from three to five years. The same discount is available for a full year if a firm signs a lease for five years or longer.
A third incentive would add the VIP program to the new ramp at Weston and Commerce. The program has been running at three ramps for the past two years and offers monthly parking from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. for $15. Ritsema said Parking Services has 171 VIP cards active in the three ramps and would make 100 available for the Weston Commerce ramp. Many of the program’s customers are college students and young professionals. In addition, students who live at 5 Lyon will be eligible for half-priced monthly parking in the ramp at Pearl and Ionia. The discount will be good Sept. 1-June 30.
Parking Commissioner Michael Ellis, president of the Ellis Parking Co., suggested tabling the vote on the incentives, but didn’t find any support for that. “I think it’s well thought out,” he said of the plan to fill excess capacity. “But I think it’s way too much. I think there are possible unintended consequences that I need to think through.”
“You can’t know every unintended consequence because they’re unintended,” said Ritsema. “If it’s a horrible mistake, we can react and make adjustments.”