GRAND RAPIDS — Parking conditions will change downtown. At least five events over the next two years will affect the city-owned system of ramps and lots, the majority of which are used by downtown employers.
In the last three years, some changes have become readily apparent. Most noticeable is the increase of available monthly parking spaces in the city’s system. Vacancies have more than doubled in the last 36 months.
“This is an important piece in the discussion of changing parking conditions,” said Ted Perez, Parking Services director.
Perez recently painted parking commissioners a portrait of the changes —likely to get underway in earnest this summer and continue over the next two summers — which will require his department to find an estimated 1,476 more spaces in the system. All but 120 of those spots will be needed for monthly parking.
Here are those expected changes:
**In July 2002, state workers will move into the former City Centre building. Those workers will need an estimated 340 spaces.
**In Sept. 2002, work on the new Surface Transportation Center is expected to begin on a DASH South lot. The city estimates it will have to find 480 spaces for displaced monthly parkers.
**In June 2003, a private developer is expected to exercise an option on the Area 3 lot on Ionia. The city estimates it will have to find 111 spaces for displaced parkers.
**In July 2003, the city projects it will close the City Centre ramp and then have to find 425 spaces for displaced monthly parkers.
**In July 2004, the city may lose the Monroe Center 1 lot to the new art museum. If so, the city will have to find 120 spaces for visitors.
The new Monroe Center 2 ramp, going up at Ottawa and Louis NW, is being counted on to pick up a goodly portion of those parkers. But the opening for that ramp has been pushed back a few months from January 2003 to the following summer, as the work crew found the site tougher than they thought they would after they started digging it up.
“They ran into boulders the size of dump trucks, I understand,” said Perez.
That discovery will add another $300,000 to the ramp’s price tag.
But when the city opens Monroe Center 2 it hopes to close the aging City Centre ramp at Division and Fulton NW. The plan is to raze the ramp if the city holds onto the property and if it has about $300,000 on hand to take it down.
“It was built to last 40 years,” said Mayor John Logie. “We need to be thinking about what we want to be happening on Division.”
The mayor said he hopes that the city won’t have to build another parking ramp, which would run about $13,000 per space. If the city does hang on to the land, it may build a parking lot with 75 spaces at a cost of $5,000 per space. Most, however, would prefer to see that property bought and developed for office, retail or housing.
“It would be a negative to have that corner as a surface parking lot,” said Jack Hoffman, Parking Commission chairman.
The question that Perez and parking commissioners will be trying to answer in the coming months is how to deal with growth once the recession ends. To prepare for that time, they plan to keep a close eye on the demand for parking, to look at options for less expensive, fringe-area parking and try to integrate public transportation — such as the Rapid and DASH systems — into the answer.
“We’ll have to be increasingly creative to do that,” said Logie.
The number of available monthly parking spaces at city-owned downtown ramps and lots has risen by nearly 125 percent in three years.
Only 646 monthly spaces were available downtown in January 1999. This January, that number is 1,452 spaces — a gain of 806.
More than 200 spaces at the City Centre ramp came from the closure of Mackie’s World, a mall geared toward children. At the Scribner lot became another 175 spaces became available for monthly parkers. Previously they were reserved for city workers.
The Government Center ramp gained 158 spaces for monthly parking when the courts and police moved last year. And the Ottawa Fulton ramp picked up more vacancies when US Xchange was sold, when the Arena Station closed, and when Steelcase Inc. cut back its downtown design operation.
Downtown employers and employees lease about 85 percent of all the city-owned spaces.