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Sunday, 17 December 2017 18:39

Downtown parking ramp discussion clears MobileGR

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Downtown parking ramp discussion clears MobileGR Courtesy rendering

GRAND RAPIDS –– After a largely procedural vote striking down a resolution to boost the inventory of public parking in Grand Rapids, city commissioners will likely reconsider the idea now that it’s gone through the proper channels.

On Thursday morning, the board of MobileGR voted unanimously to instruct the Grand Rapids City Commission to start exploring the possibility of building a parking structure on the surface parking lot adjacent to the downtown branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

That move came just two days after the city commission rejected a similar resolution by outgoing First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer, largely on the grounds that the MobileGR board had not had a chance to vet the need for the new structure.

“The city commission historically doesn’t pass resolutions to tell staff what they should be doing,” said Josh Naramore, manager of MobileGR, which oversees the city’s parking supply.  

Now that the MobileGR board passed the measure, city commissioners will likely begin the lengthy process of assessing the need for a new ramp, potentially identifying a development partner and determining whether the city would need to dispose of municipal assets, such as a surface parking lot.

The process of getting a new parking structure built –– whether on the library site or elsewhere –– would likely take years, Naramore said. The cost of a new ramp on the library site is estimated at between $12.25 million and $15 million, with annual maintenance costing between $820,000 and $1 million.

The city’s current monthly parking supply, largely targeted at daily commuters, stands at about 95 percent occupied, leading many in the business community to call for additional supply.

In the shorter term, the city and various partners have sought new mobility options such as rerouting the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) and adding additional surface parking lots, which can be built much faster and for far less money than ramps.

Case in point: City officials last week opened a new 300-space surface lot at the intersection of Ionia Avenue and McConnell Street SW, across the street from the Downtown Market.

“We are encouraged by the steps being taken to address the parking needs of downtown employers, employees and residents,” Josh Lunger, director of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement regarding the new surface parking lot. “As we continue to work with the City to enhance employer engagement and support all-of-the-above transportation solutions, it is good to take a moment to celebrate this important investment.”

Both the public and private sectors have taken steps in recent months and years to increase parking capacity at a time when the city’s downtown surface parking lots have become magnets for new development and proposed projects.

Research from Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the nonprofit organization that administers the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA), shows more than 3,200 parking spaces have been recently completed, are under construction or are “realistically in the development pipeline.”

That includes plans for about 900 spaces proposed as part of the downtown movie theater and entertainment development south of the Van Andel Arena.

According to the DGRI data, the private sector is building 91 percent of the new or planned parking as part of new development projects. The city has seen a net gain of about 1,600 spaces when compared to parking lots that were taken over for development projects.

DGRI, for its part, has pushed for a variety of new transportation and mobility options, including bike-sharing and car-sharing programs. When asked last week whether the organization would support a new ramp, executives said that with the proper vetting and process, the infrastructure could be good for the downtown area.

“We should rigorously study the real need for additional parking supply, what it costs, who pays and what’s the ROI,” Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at DGRI, wrote in a message to MiBiz last week. “(It’s) all in the context of our community aspiration to build a 21st (century) transportation system that equitably serves all Grand Rapidians.”

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Nick Manes

Staff writer

nmanes@mibiz.com

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