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Grosse Pointe City

City to study possibility of free parking in Village

Survey of parking usage could take place as early as this fall

April 10, 2013

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Officials are investigating the possibility of bringing one hour of free, off-street parking to the Village for visitors.

Although City officials would need to figure out a way to offer a complimentary parking period and still maintain the parking lots and deck, which are supported with parking fee proceeds, they believe this could be a good way to boost business and increase visitor traffic to the downtown shopping district.

As early as this fall, Kalamazoo-based Carl Walker — the City’s parking consultants — could be performing a study of Village parking habits toward this goal. At a March 18 City Council meeting, City Manager Pete Dame presented a study proposal from Carl Walker that would cost between $16,375 and $19,840, depending on which options City leaders selected. The study would analyze the number of motorists and length of stays in the Village, while also projecting future use and costs in order to come up with ways the City could change its parking fee or payment structure to maintain the lots and deck while offering an hour of complimentary parking, Dame said. Money for the study is available in the parking fund, he said.

Cities that offer some amount of free parking are often perceived as having a “more user-friendly system,” said Dame, who noted that he previously worked in a community that did this. “I think it would be great, particularly (for) marketing.”

Dame said one of the biggest hurdles is getting visitors to the Village in the first place, so if they could lure newcomers with free parking, such visitors would be likely to stay longer, as has occurred in other downtowns with this amenity.

However, because such a change would involve an equally major shift in how the parking system is funded, Dame said they would need “ample input” from Village stakeholders. He recommended holding a meeting with the parking consultants and such stakeholders, as well as sharing data with business owners and landlords and incorporating their feedback into any final recommendations to the City Council.

City Council member Andrew Turnbull said “one of the things that prompted this” call for a study was a request from the business community. They feel offering free parking would improve the business climate, he said.

“(We need) a sustainable system that pays for itself,” Turnbull acknowledged, but added that it also needs to be attractive to businesses and customers.

Use varies depending on the day and time — something that was a concern for some officials — but Dame said the study would analyze parking between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. According to Carl Walker’s proposal, parking duration and turnover surveys would take place on a 30-minute basis “on two weekdays and a Saturday,” covering weekday and weekend usage.

“That’s good,” City Council member John Stempfle said.

Dame said they’re able to track usage in the parking deck and gated lots. For example, he said they know that 90 percent of those who park in the deck are there for less than an hour. He also pointed out that the “cost” for one hour of free parking in the deck would be $100,000.

That data caused concern for City Council member Christopher Boettcher, who pointed out that the City would not only be spending nearly $20,000 for the parking study, but was looking at the very real possibility of losing another $100,000 in parking revenue from the deck. At this point, Dame said Trader Joe’s — which is near the parking deck — is covering almost all of the parking structure fees by validating parking for its customers.

“There is no such thing as free parking,” Dame said. “Someone is paying for the parking.”

Because there are several large empty buildings now — including the former Borders bookstore and Ace hardware store — Dame said the consultant recommended waiting until City officials at least know what kind of use is going there before performing the study. The consultant felt results wouldn’t be accurate at this point, he said. Another gated Village parking lot is also in the works.

The council voted in favor of authorizing the parking study this fall or later, with Boettcher casting the sole dissenting vote. Mayor Dale Scrace said they might need to wait until after the holidays because the holiday shopping season — and resulting increased Village traffic — could also skew study results.

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