“I think now, in 2018, is the time to begin the preliminary study,” City Manager Pat McGinnis said. “It’s a big, big issue and we have to start somewhere.”
The community has partnered with Kalamazoo-based Walker Consultants to conduct a $6,900 study of possible locations, identify potential costs and see whether a parking ramp would be a good fit for the community.
“This is just the next step of evaluating the potential of someday we might have a parking ramp downtown,” McGinnis said.
There are several factors behind the push for the study.
— McGinnis said that each new development proposal for the downtown area that has come along in the past several months has been tripped up by the parking issue. If the city wants to see meaningful infill development downtown, he said they’ll likely need to add parking capacity.
— The study also follows through on long-term suggestions made in the city’s 2017 Downtown Parking Study to support future growth. “The parking study we did in 2017 suggests as a long-term strategy adding more parking and possibly paying for parking,” McGinnis said.
If the city decides to eventually construct a parking ramp, McGinnis noted that there would likely be a shift from free to paid parking downtown. Parking revenues, he said, would most likely be used to pay for the construction of a ramp.
By making the ramp the only paid parking downtown, people wouldn’t use it and the structure would never get paid for, McGinnis said, so the best scenario would be for all downtown parking to carry a fee.
City Council agreed that the initial study was worth pursuing.
“I think that it would be a great study to do,” Councilman Denny Scott said. “You have to start someplace (and) it’s a good starting spot.”
Councilman Mike Fritz also voiced his support for the study.
“Whether we go down that road or not, it’s good to take a look at it,” he said.
Fritz noted that property values in neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area are at a premium right now, which means the only place for the city to add parking is by going up.
“I’m willing to go with the study and see what they have to say, and get an evaluation,” he said. “At least it opens the door to look at it and see what’s available.”
Mayor Geri McCaleb said she is interested in what kind of solutions the consultant will come up with, and noted that she agrees with McGinnis’ thought that all downtown parking would need to have a fee if a ramp is built. If this doesn’t happen, she said visitors would likely avoid using the ramp and only go where the parking is free.
“There’s very few places that you can go where all parking is free,” McCaleb said. “We may have to catch up with the times here.”