No ‘silver bullets’ to solve downtown GR parking dilemma


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Few things spark the passion in the citizenry of Grand Rapids more than parking.

That passion was evident at Wednesday’s meeting between Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce members and city officials.

“A lot of the tenants that we represent are downtown — they are beginning to say take us to the burbs,” said one downtown leasing agent.

“I feel like a group of us warned you three years ago that there was a problem, and a problem coming,” added another meeting attendee.

But the session was less about solutions and more about opening up the conversation.

Chamber and city officials hope business owners impacted by the shortage of downtown parking spots can help solve the problem.

“I don’t really know how many tenants I’ve lost,” said Chip Bowling, president of X Ventures — a downtown commercial real estate firm.  “But we can stop it. We can change it. We can turn this around.”

The shortage is the result of downtown’s latest growth spurt.

Right now, downtown parking is at about 95 percent capacity during the work day. 

Despite calls for creating more parking, the message from city hall is you can’t build your way out of the shortage.

The city has introduced a number of programs designed not to force people to leave their cars at home, a popular misconceptions according to city officials, but give them options.

Some not so popular among certain segments of the business community.

“The idea of having your employees drive downtown and then jumping on a bus to shuttle into work removes all the incentives of being downtown,” Bowling said.

But others appear to be working.

The city’s largest employer, Spectrum Health, offers employees at some downtown locations cash vouchers for finding parking alternatives.

“They’ve seen about 20 to 30 percent of the employees at that location, depending on the month, that are taking advantage of that program,” said Mobile GR and Parking Manager Josh Naramore.

“The city has a lot of great things that we are doing. We’re just not the best at talking to people about it. I think today was a great example of that.”

So while the meeting didn’t produce any new solutions, officials with both the Chamber of Commerce and the city say the meeting opened the dialog for future fixes.