City commissioners awarded Walker Parking Consultants of Kalamazoo the contract last week to conduct a comprehensive parking and transportation demand management plan for the Heartside Business District.
“I know how much of a crunch there is there for parking,” said 2nd Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala, who has worked in the district.
The study area will run east from the Grand River past Jefferson Avenue and south from Fulton to Wealthy streets. But at Fulton and Division, the area will jut north to Fountain Street and then turn east to Jefferson.
The district contains businesses, homes, schools, shops, churches and social service organizations.
Part of the district is historic and much of it is being developed.
The study will cost at least $134,500, but it can’t exceed $153,450. Only the survey done for the hill area of the Michigan Street Business District was costlier.
Parking Services is taking the point position for the study.
Department Director Pam Ritsema told the Business Journal that the first meeting for it would likely get underway in about a month, and that the study would take roughly six months to complete.
In the meantime, the money to pay for it needs to be gathered.
“We need to collect signatures on the letter of intent for the funding and that will take a couple of weeks,” said Ritsema.
Eleven organizations, likely a record for something like this, have agreed to contribute to the cost.
“The funding was raised from a number of sources, which pleases me,” said Mayor John Logie, also a parking commissioner. “It’s a collaborative process and the need is there.”
The Downtown Development Authority and the city, through Parking Services, are the biggest givers. The DDA will give $50,000 toward it, while the city will donate $62,800.
Initially, Parking Services was also going to contribute $50,000. But Ritsema said her department upped its donation to cover any contingency costs that may arise from the work.
“We said we will contribute $50,000, and if we need to dip into the contingency money, we’ll contribute to that also. The scope of the study is so wide geographically, and (the money) was partially added as a request from the Parking Commission,” said Ritsema.
“So Parking Services ended up being the major contributor to it.”
The Interurban Transit Partnership, via The Rapid, and Western Michigan University each gave $10,000 to the study. The Frey Foundation, Rockford Construction and Second Story Properties each contributed $5,000.
Dwelling Place gave $3,500 and the Heartside Business Association gave $1,000. The Children’s Museum and the Civic Theatre donated $500 each.
The fee for Walker Parking is expected to be $134,500. Estimated reimbursable expenses of $5,000 and a contingency of $13,950 bring the study’s possible total to $153,450.
A concern the business association had is that the City Centre ramp will close before the study is done. In fact, the business group asked the city not to close the ramp at Division and Fulton until the work was finished. The ramp is the single, largest source of parking in Heartside with 540 spaces.
But a report done earlier this year by Walker Parking shows that the facility isn’t structurally sound.
The city doesn’t want to take any chances and will close the aging ramp on Dec. 31.
“It is a heavily used parking ramp,” said Ritsema of City Centre. “We have found places for all of our card-access customers there. But these are not necessarily as convenient or at the same price.”
Ritsema said monthly City Centre parkers are being moved to the new Monroe Center ramp, the Ottawa-Fulton ramp and the lots that serve the DASH South shuttle service.
What will happen to the City Centre property, a prime site in the business district, after the ramp closes isn’t certain. The mayor said the city might not raze it immediately after it does close.
Logie also said that Ellis Parking Co., the city’s largest private-sector parking provider made an offer on the site.
Details weren’t revealed, but he said Ellis would tear the ramp down and then build a parking lot there.
Logie said another option for Heartside might be to build a ramp on a DASH South lot located south of Fulton and north of Wealthy.