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Grand Rapids Downtown Library’s parking garage and mixed-use concept spark questions at city commission meeting

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A concept to build a 500-space maximum parking lot with mixed-use space, potentially housing apartments, businesses or community spaces, was rejected by Grand Rapids city commissioners on Tuesday.

Mobile GR, the city’s parking services department, has been considering for years the idea of ​​building a parking lot, with commercial or residential space, on what is now a 110-space surface parking lot, 111 Library St. NE .

After hearing the outcome of the community feedback the city gathered on the concept, several commission members wondered if an additional parking garage was needed. Instead, they suggested that residential housing, with enough parking to service the library and surrounding venues, should be the main focus of the site.

“In Grand Rapids, we need housing like hogs need slop,” City Commissioner Joe Jones said Tuesday, April 26. “Any opportunity to get housing is a good thing.”

Josh Naramore, director of Mobile GR, said building a parking garage on the site would allow the city to provide parking for city employees who currently park in more demand lots downtown.

The idea is to “free up more parking spaces in the heart of downtown, especially in the Heartside neighborhood where we have a lot of businesses that want to expand,” he said.

Naramore cited the Weston-Commerce ramp as an example of a parking garage that is “extremely oversubscribed.”

Commissioner Jon O’Connor expressed his opposition to the proposed parking garage.

He asked why the city would consider building the facility when a large parking lot used by the city, located at 36 McConnell St. SW, has a 60% utilization rate.

“If it’s something that’s 60%, why don’t we put cars out there at $0 cost,” he asked.

During his presentation to the commission, Naramore highlighted feedback the city has gathered from residents and community members on the parking garage concept.

Feedback was collected from neighborhood residents, as well as nearby institutions such as the Library, Grand Rapids Community College, Civic Theater, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and others. Developer feedback was also collected.

As well as a parking garage, ideas for what to include in the development ranged from affordable housing, retail space for a cafe and outdoor recreation space, among others. , Naramore said.

The parking garage could consist of one development space on the first floor, followed by multiple parking floors, with additional development space above the garage.

He said the library’s biggest concern was making sure there was enough parking space for the library and its patrons.

“They’re very strong on what we’ve heard all along, which is that the new structure shouldn’t overshadow the existing historic structure,” Naramore said, referring to the library, which opened in 1904.

He said feedback from the development community highlighted that financial incentives will likely be needed to make the project a reality given rising construction costs.

Commissioner Senita Lenear said she would like the concept to focus primarily on housing.

“Housing is an important need,” she said. “For years, we have had people ask us to make housing available, as much as possible. When I think of the options here, it would have been great to see an option that is mostly accommodation with parking, perhaps, to support that.

A 2020 study, conducted for the city of Grand Rapids by Housing Next, estimates the city needs 5,340 additional apartments and 3,548 owner-occupied condos, townhouses or single-family homes by 2025.

For the next stages of the concept, Naramore said briefings on the concept will be provided to the Grand Rapids Public Library Board, as well as the Mobile GR Commission. Feedback from these councils and the city commission will be used to create a firmer concept for the site.

“With the approval of the city commission, we might like to move forward with the potential design of what the facility would look like based on your feedback,” Naramore told the commission.

Adding more parking to the area would also benefit nearby organizations such as the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and St. Cecilia Music Center. Both organizations said one of the barriers to their growth is that they don’t have parking, Naramore said.

He said the size of the proposed parking garage could be reduced and that 500 spaces is not a definitive figure.

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Deena S. Hawkins

The author Deena S. Hawkins