East Fulton Strives For More Parking

    GRAND RAPIDS — While downtown is being eyed for entertainment, a savvy observer might have noticed that retail has grown just east of there.

    The number of shop owners in the East Fulton Business District has grown over the last four years, and so has customer traffic — estimated to be up by 50 percent since 2000. But while more customers are the yin to business owners there, the yang is those buyers are having a rough time trying to find a place to park.

    “Parking is getting tight. Our customers can’t come into our store,” said Joel Carrier, who owns Bluedoor Antiques and Elements at 946 E. Fulton.

    “Customers love this area and as word spreads of our ‘unique and exciting’ shopping area, so does the demand for parking. Parking is at a premium, for all of us,” said Kathy Nagy, owner of East Fulton Art & Antiques at 959 E. Fulton.

    To combat the parking dilemma, the East Fulton Business Association has asked the city to conduct a parking study within the district.

    EFBA President Larry Melton hopes the results will provide some affordable solutions. The business group has raised the $500 necessary to get the study going. The Neighborhood Business Specialist Program is helping the association.

    Parking commissioners agreed to the request from business owners at their last meeting and also asked the Interurban Transit Partnership, the city’s public transportation agency, to get involved.

    “Good solutions are going to be a combination of parking and transit,” said John Logie, parking commissioner. “Traffic is the lifeblood of the Neighborhood Business Districts.”

    Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema said she would meet with EFBA to determine the study area, which is likely to focus on East Fulton from Eastern to Carlton avenues, and put bids out for the work. Ritsema expects the study will run from $7,000 to $9,000, a figure based on what a similar study cost in Creston five years ago.

    Although East Fulton is lined with parking meters, Rick Powell said those spaces aren’t adequate to meet the volume of business in the district.

    Powell, a co-owner of From The Heart Yoga Center at 940 E. Fulton, owns a small surface lot with two other storeowners. But customers of other shops are using those spaces because there isn’t a lot of available parking.

    “As a result our lot is full beyond capacity on the peak hours of business causing many patrons to not shop in the area, because it is easier to go elsewhere than it is to drive around continuously looking for parking,” said Powell.

    Jason Dykhouse, president of East West Futons Inc. at 954 E. Fulton, said the growth in the district from new businesses and residential units has resulted in at least 50 percent more traffic there. The added traffic has brought congestion, which has made a limited amount of parking even scarcer for both residents and customers.

    “This is a tragic thing for our neighborhood businesses, as we struggle to keep our businesses thriving. Each potential customer is valuable to our success, and we desperately need additional accommodations for parking to allow our growth and success as a small-business district to continue,” said Dykhouse.

    East Fulton has earned the reputation of being a proactive business district. Property owners there voted for a special assessment, improved their buildings, and successfully lobbied for a zoning change.

    Carrier said all that activity has resulted in East Fulton being seen as a retail center that is drawing customers from the suburbs, while nearby downtown is targeted for entertainment.

    “We’ve grown quite strong,” he said.

    As for a potential solution to the lack of parking, Ben Perrin has already suggested one. Perrin, owner of the MercuryHead Gallery at 962 E. Fulton, wants a surface lot.

    “To encourage growth as well as provide adequate parking for current and future customers, I would like to express a desire for a hub lot,” he said.

    “Cherry/Lake and Eastown have this type of parking. I believe something similar would assist the survival and success of the East Fulton shopping district.”           

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