Planning Director Suggests City Has Overbuilt Parking Ramps
East Lansing’s Director of Planning, Tim Dempsey, is suggesting the City has effectively overbuilt parking ramps. Nationwide changes in driving habits—away from personal car use—are having serious financial implications for the City.
At this point, Dempsey says, there is a “real excess in supply in the system,” even without the new Center City District ramp, which is expected to partially open next spring.
Dempsey remarked on the issue at two meetings last week – East Lansing’s Planning Commission on Wednesday and East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on Thursday.
Questions about parking supply have come to the fore because plans for the Park District redevelopment call for constructing very little new parking. The largest new building, proposed for the northwest corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue, would have 218 apartments and only 89 private parking spaces (inside the building) for residents. It would also have retail space but no dedicated retail parking.
The proposed Graduate Hotel, just west of there, would have 194 guest rooms and offer only valet parking, with The Graduate renting space for that from the City. (Guests could also self-park in the City’s system.) The proposed moderate-income building just north of there would have 72 apartments and onsite private parking for 26 cars.
On-site bicycle parking for these new buildings would be comparatively generous.
Rather than being worried about this proposal representing too little car parking, City Planning staff welcomes these numbers. That’s because the proposed redevelopment is likely to use revenue-generating City of East Lansing parking spots that are otherwise going empty.
According to Dempsey and Planning and Zoning Administrator David Haywood, at peak usage – which is running at only 54%, or at 67% if all permit-parking spots are counted – the City’s parking system has, on average, 843 downtown parking spots sitting empty. And that doesn’t even count the new Center City garage, which is replacing what had been surface parking Lot 1.
By far the most popular parking spot downtown, Lot 1 had 143 spots. It had been the City’s most lucrative parking site, bringing in about $750,000 in gross revenues per year. The Center City garage, replacing Lot 1, will have 620 spaces, with 318 earmarked for permit parking. That leaves about 300 new spots for general parking.
Parking revenue from the new Center City garage is supposed to help make up for what the City will not be obtaining in taxes from Center City. Under the tax increment financing (TIF) plan for the Center City District project, for thirty years, $58 million in new local taxes from the redevelopment will be diverted to pay for the project – primarily for the new parking garage.
Dempsey noted to Planning Commission that parking ramps costs $35,000 per spot to construct. Dempsey called that “a tremendous use of potential public resources.”
Nevertheless, one member of Planning Commission, Jack Cahill, criticized the current Park District plan for having too little parking. Members of the DDA also expressed some concern about whether the hotel having no on-site parking would make sense.
But attorney David Pierson, speaking for the Chicago-based developer DRW/Convexity, reminded both groups that the City’s own laws say redevelopments like this must plan for parkers to use the City’s parking system, unless the developer can prove that won’t work. Dempsey and Haywood presented evidence that the City’s system has more than enough space to accommodate the Park District plans.
In contrast to Cahill’s remarks, at the DDA meeting, Mayor Mark Meadows welcomed the valet-only hotel plan, because it means hotel guests are likely to stay downtown for shopping and dining. According to Pierson, that’s part of the hotel’s motivation – to keep guests onsite, to use the hotel restaurant.
Pierson also told Planning Commission that the developers know from their ample experience that they need only a relatively small number of spots for the apartments and can do fine with valet-only parking at the hotel.
Pierson points to trends showing that city-livers prefer not to own cars, opting to order groceries online, to use rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, and to rely on car-rental options like Zipcar when they need a car. Many hotel guests, meanwhile, arrive without a car.
Dempsey told Planning Commission of a “growing fear of what might be coming down the line” with driverless cars, delivery services, and rideshare services in terms of empty ramps that must be kept up.
The City is currently trying to change public perception about how much parking there is downtown, particularly while the perception that there’s a lack of parking is negatively impacting downtown businesses struggling to make it through the Center City District construction.
In the City’s e-Dialog newsletter of July 20, the City urged citizens to patronize downtown businesses, emphasizing how much parking is available. The City is also posting real-time information on parking space availability for garages using electronic signs.
Speaking to Planning Commission, Dempsey observed that East Lansing has four public parking ramps “in a very small downtown.”
There’s the Grove Street ramp behind HopCat, the colorful parking structure on Division Street, the brick structure above CVS on Charles Street, and the garage under the Marriott Hotel. When Center City opens, there will be five – all within a quarter-mile.
“I would challenge anybody here to find the density of structured parking that we have just about anywhere else in a college town,” Dempsey told Planning Commission. “You just won’t find it.”
Reporting contributed by Kepler Domurat-Sousa and Jessy Gregg. Photos by Kepler Domurat-Sousa.