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Sunday, 31 August 2014 22:00

Park it elsewhere: Developer asks GR to reconsider parking lot along Grand River

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The Grand Rapids Parking Commission is proposing demolishing two city-owned buildings on Market Avenue to make way for a $1.5 million, 276-space surface parking lot in an area approximated by the orange box. However, developers and others say the city’s riverfront corridor should be reserved for uses other than parking. The city’s 2012 Green Grand Rapids report recommended mixed-use residential uses be targeted for that area, as shown by the artist’s rendering in the inset. The Grand Rapids Parking Commission is proposing demolishing two city-owned buildings on Market Avenue to make way for a $1.5 million, 276-space surface parking lot in an area approximated by the orange box. However, developers and others say the city’s riverfront corridor should be reserved for uses other than parking. The city’s 2012 Green Grand Rapids report recommended mixed-use residential uses be targeted for that area, as shown by the artist’s rendering in the inset. COURTESY IMAGES

A real estate developer wants the Grand Rapids Parking Commission to reconsider its plans to build a 276-space surface parking lot on city-owned property near the Grand River.

At the heart of his argument, Marcel Burgler of Grand Rapids-based Prime Development Co. questions whether the city should be locking up prime developable real estate along Market Avenue southwest of the U.S. 131 overpass for use as a surface parking lot.

However, the city and at least one local developer see the parking lot as a temporary solution to meet growing demand for parking in the city — at least until the market dynamics shift to make larger-scale development on the site more feasible.

But Burgler and others do not think a parking lot would be a good use of space along the riverfront corridor. He said he’s among a growing number of real estate developers who are trying to attract better land uses to that area of the city.

“This is a rare, once-in-a decade opportunity where the city is under-utilizing land,” Burgler said in an interview with MiBiz.

Prime Development has completed a first round of renderings for a potential mixed-use project for on least one of the 11 parcels commonly called 201 Market Avenue that’s located southwest of downtown Grand Rapids along the Grand River, Burgler said.

Early plans for the site call for Prime Development to build a facility for at least 200 market-rate apartments along with other complementary retail uses.

While Burgler acknowledges the proposed project is potentially years away — if the firm decides to pursue it further — the developer is scheduled to meet with city officials about the plans in the next month.

Burgler declined to share the project renderings at the time of this report.

Prime Development’s project hinges on the Grand Rapids Parking Commission re-evaluating its $1.5 million plans to develop the 276-space South Monroe surface parking lot. The proposed site encompasses land currently occupied by two city-owned buildings at 235 and 273 Market Avenue, as well as a part of Williams Street that bisects the property. The lot would be separated from the river by another city-owned building.

The plans have not yet been approved by the City Commission.Demolition could start this fall with construction completed by July 1, 2015.  

Currently, the site is home to several of the city’s public service departments such as recycling, refuse collection and street management divisions. The two existing buildings would need to be demolished to make way for the parking lot to be built.

Burgler urged the city to reconsider its plans in a memo he sent in July to Parking Services Managing Director Pam Ritsema and members of the Parking Commission.

“The real estate development community is actively looking for large development sites to place residential mixed-use riverfront structures, particularly on the Grand River,” Burgler said in the memo obtained by MiBiz. “Our company and many other local developers are very interested in these city-owned parcels.”

Burgler cited the city’s 2012 Green Grand Rapids study that looked at redevelopment options for the 201 Market Avenue parcels. The study suggested a public green space right along the river with mid- to high-rise mixed-use buildings along Market Street and multi-story parking garages, not surface lots.

Officials at the Parking Services Department did not respond to requests for comment.

While Burgler would rather see other uses for the site, others say the South Market lot is merely a temporary fix to help with parking demand in the burgeoning area south of downtown.

“A surface lot would only be there five to 10 years to alleviate some demand in the Arena South area,” Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell told MiBiz.

While Burgler’s proposed development falls in line with Heartwell’s long-term vision for the Market Avenue riverfront corridor, he said the issue for the city in the short term is the cost of moving the services that currently sit on the land.

“The challenge is that moving those services from that 14-acre site is not inexpensive,” Heartwell said.

Developer John Wheeler, director of business development at Orion Construction, also sees development potential in the riverfront corridor, but he said he doesn’t think the timing is right to make a move in that area right now.

Orion is currently building the mixed-use Arena Place development in the Arena South district a few blocks away from the proposed South Market lot. Like Heartwell, Wheeler said some temporary surface parking in the district is needed to attract visitors and spur development in the nearby areas.

“The Parking Commission is doing it right,” Wheeler said of the decision to pursue an additional surface parking lot along Market Avenue.

Prime Development’s potential project is also not the first to be proposed for the city-owned parcels along the Grand River. The properties at 201 Market Avenue played a key role in the “River Grand” development, the so-called “mystery development” Duane Faust proposed in 2007 and 2010 that fizzled out before ever breaking ground. One iteration of the project called for a vertical mall at the site and a subway linking downtown with the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Wheeler said he would like to see the Market Avenue corridor undergo a visioning study similar to the report the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority commissioned for the Arena South district last year. Such a project could help determine what the riverfront area’s “highest use is,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Parking Commission is currently undertaking a $168,000 Downtown Transportation and Parking study to analyze the short-term and long-term supply and demand for parking in the core downtown area. The study aims to determine what kind of parking supply the city will require given the push for more multi-modal transportation options such as The Rapid’s recently launched Silver Line bus route.

That study is being performed by national transportation consulting group Desman Associates of Chicago.

For a developer like Burgler, however, additional surface parking spaces need not be built in the downtown area considering the scarcity of — and high demand for — developable land.

“They can move (a parking lot) anywhere,” he said.

Read 4772 times Last modified on Sunday, 31 August 2014 23:04

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