GVSU to lease, buy land to build parking lots downtown

GVL / Sara Carte
Grand Valley purchases 3.5 acres to build on for downtown parking on Feb. 22, 2017.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Grand Valley purchases 3.5 acres to build on for downtown parking on Feb. 22, 2017.

Emily Doran

At its meeting in Detroit Friday, Feb. 10, the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees voted to rent and ultimately purchase 3.5 acres of land near the Pew Campus from the Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Company. Pending approval from the City of Grand Rapids, GVSU intends to convert the land into parking lots by August 2017.

“Assuming we receive approval through the City of Grand Rapid’s processes, we expect the lease period to start with the approval of the parking lot at the city,” said James Moyer, associate vice president for facilities planning at GVSU, via email.

As part of the leasing agreement, GVSU will rent the land for $10,000 a month for a 10-year period and ultimately buy it for a total of $3.38 million. The leasing money will be put toward this total amount, and the project will be paid for with resources from the university’s general fund.

The parcels of land that will be leased and purchased by GVSU are located at 650 Butterworth St. SW, 648 Butterworth St. SW, 633 Emperor St. SW, 219 Gelock Place SW and 201 Tolford St. SW. Padnos is still using some of this land, hence the initial leasing period before GVSU’s final purchase.

“The sites are currently used by Padnos for temporary storage of transport trucks,” Moyer said. “These trucks are expected to be relocated by Padnos when the parking lot construction starts.”

The decision to lease and eventually purchase land for downtown parking comes after GVSU administrators identified a shortage of available spaces for students.

Moyer said the need for more parking spaces is particularly urgent for health sciences students.

“The university continues to seek solutions to the parking needs of students who use the Grand Rapids campus,” he said. “Our greatest need is near the Center for Health Sciences, where we do not have any student parking. We are engaged in several conversations concerning this matter.”

D. Scott Richardson, vice president for finance and administration at GVSU, agreed that additional parking spaces are necessary for students who study at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences (CHS) whose schedules may prevent them from efficiently using the transit system.

“We just know that we got to have parking close to the classroom building for a segment of our population,” Richardson said. “We run a bus that goes through there every six minutes, and it takes care of 50, 60 percent of the folks that take classes there, but it doesn’t take care of them all.”

The new parking lots, which could contain roughly 300 spaces, would provide a temporary solution for students who need to commute to CHS but do not currently have closer parking options. Richardson said many students have been parking in nearby neighborhoods, which is an issue that needs to be addressed. Until a more permanent solution is implemented for this parking problem, the impending construction project near the Pew Campus will provide a space for these students to park their cars and ride the bus to CHS.

“It can all change some of the pressure areas that maybe it’s a solution for Health Hill until we can get something built up there, so it was critical that we get it,” Richardson said. “We don’t spend that kind of money lightly, that’s for sure.”

The new parking lots will address another short-term need for spaces resulting from the recently constructed Consumers Energy training facility across from the Bicycle Factory. The hope with the new spaces is that some parking will shift to relieve heavily congested lots.

Although this project will not result in significant financial gains, GVSU administrators believe it addresses a real, pressing need for more parking spaces downtown.

“I do believe that the lease to own is a great opportunity for GVSU,” said Lisa Haynes, assistant vice president of Pew Campus and Regional Centers Operations, via email. “More students are driving, and we need to have parking to meet the parking demand. I know that with the opening of the Seidman building, the parking demand on the south end of campus has increased.”

In the same way, Moyer thinks the acquisition of this land will help GVSU meet long-term and short-term needs.

“This is a worthwhile investment for GVSU to make,” he said. “In the short term, we address a parking need at the Pew Campus, and in the long term—assuming continued growth at/by the university—we have land on which we can grow.”

Richardson agrees this purchase is a necessary step for the university to take to meet the needs of its students.

“It’s certainly a necessary cost,” Richardson said. “The payback is that we can continue to grow downtown programs (and) we can continue to offer convenient parking for the people who need it.”