Parking Meeting Is Impetus For Major Change

    GRAND RAPIDS — The meeting was promoted as the first of a handful to develop a parking study for the Heartside Business District.

    But in truth the gathering was actually the initial get-together to create a master plan for the highly diverse and rapidly growing area.

    “Parking is a piece of it, but not the whole thing,” said Dennis Sturtevant, chair of the Heartside Business Association. “It’s really more of a plan to define the district’s growth.”

    About 30 members of the business group and others gathered at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts recently to begin setting some guidelines for the long-term economic growth of the district and to air their thoughts as to how they can erase a lack of available parking that limits further development in the area.

    One way of tackling the latter problem is to hire a parking consultant to conduct a study. And like their counterparts at the Michigan Street Business Association, the Heartside group seems to favor going that route.

    Attendees rattled off at least 20 different items that such a study should consider. These ranged from creating a thorough inventory of current parking spaces to figuring out how far customers, employees and residents are willing to walk from their cars to their destinations.

    They also wanted to know what plan the city has for the City Centre ramp site at Division and Fulton once the structure is demolished. The aging building could come down next year, a move that would remove about 700 spaces from the district.

    “There are changes occurring in the economics of the area,” said Rick Chapla of The Right Place Program and the Heartside Mainstreet Project.

    Although some at the meeting de-emphasized parking as the gathering’s sole purpose, most agreed that convenient places to put cars were key elements in filling the district with businesses and residents in the long term.

    Sturtevant told the crowd that a handful of buildings along South Division, the district’s main artery, can’t be renovated largely because there isn’t enough parking to support tenants and customers. He said demolition requests have been made to the city to raze buildings in order to build surface lots on those sites. But he felt that approach wasn’t the right one for the district, as it would leave Heartside pockmarked with blotches of lots and buildings.

    “That’s not a good way to develop a neighborhood,” he said.

    Parking Services Director Ted Perez, who is retiring at the end of the month, advised the audience not to over-design the study. He suggested that their study should focus on three or four major issues, and that they keep the big picture in mind if their intention is to create a long-term plan.

    Perez also told them to begin identifying some financial sources to help pay for the study, one he called aggressive and said could cost $100,000.

    “We look at it as an access study,” said Perez.

    That estimated price tag is roughly what the Michigan Street group is expected to pay for their study, which will roughly run east from Bostwick to College and south from Michigan to Fountain.

    But Sturtevant said Heartside has a couple of advantages over Michigan Street. One, he said Heartside has more time to create a plan because it isn’t being developed as quickly as the hill sector on Michigan Street. Two, he said Heartside is larger, meaning a similar study for the same cost would cover a bigger area.

    The Heartside Business District runs south from Fulton to Wealthy and east from U.S. 131 to Lafayette. It’s a diverse area that has offices, retail, residents and institutions such as the UICA, Catholic Central High School and the Van Andel Arena. And because it is so diverse with so many uses, its master plan will take time to develop — maybe as long as a decade or two.

    “We’re just not here to define the parking need,” said Wayne Norlin, an architect with Design Plus, which is located in Heartside. “This meeting is just one step in the master plan for the whole area.”           

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