GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — Visitors to Grand Haven may have to cough up a little more change than they're used to, as city leaders are in the stages of implementing a paid parking system in the downtown area.
The idea has been in the works for years, but as it finally comes to fruition, there is some push-back from the community.
The idea of paid parking in downtown Grand Haven was first proposed in 2019. The city created a committee to do in-depth research of the idea for months.
In 2020, it was reviewed by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and they made a proposal, followed by a recommendation to the city council to pursue it.
That entire process was put on hold during the pandemic, but is now returning to the discussion as the city finds themselves in a budget deficit.
"I am concerned about it deterring people from coming to downtown Grand Haven," said Erin Lyon, owner of Jumpin' Java along the downtown's main strip.
But on the other side, city leaders like Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Cummins say, "there is no such thing as free parking."
Right now, the parking downtown is paid for entirely by property tax payers in the city.
"So we thought, should we ask the non-residents to pay for a portion of these costs by paid parking when they visit Grand Haven?" Cummins said.
Cummins explained that the city's budget deficit is what led them back to considering the option to create paid parking for both the downtown and beach areas.
"We're seeing increased costs to maintain our lots, maintain our beautiful waterfront and to maintain our police services," he said, "so we have to look at ways to raise revenue."
The plan would allow free 15-minute parking, and would not charge for street parking on Harbor Drive near the Grand Haven State Park.
It also wouldn't be year-round, and instead would be limited to May 1 through Sept. 30, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost would be $1 an hour for downtown, and $2 at the beach.
"It is the committee's initial recommendation that it be in place seven days a week, but I think we have to look at that and probably adjust as time went on to determine what's the best mix for our community," Cummins explained.
In a statement to 13 ON YOUR SIDE, City Manager Pat McGinnis said:
"Property tax payers have historically absorbed the significant costs associated with downtown and waterfront parking and property maintenance. Paid parking is an opportunity to allow users to partially support these rising costs."
At a council meeting on Monday, April 11, McGinnis explained that the State of Michigan has limited the ways the city can earn money for itself. Michigan no longer offers revenue sharing to local municipalities, and has limited the amount of personal property tax the city can collect.
McGinnis also said in a memo that it would cost roughly $300,000 to put the system in place, but that that cost should be paid off within the first year of the program. His memo explained that once the installation costs are covered, the revenue would be split 50-50. Half would go to cover maintenance for city lots, and the other half for adding more parking spaces.
Because property tax payers are already paying for this parking, is proposed that city residents would register their license plates, which would allow them to park downtown for free.
"It's all technology-based now," said Ryan Cummins, "so if you're a resident of the city, we could put in your plates for your home, and when somebody's checking to see if you've paid your parking or not, they can see that they're waived."
Local businesses owners aren't entirely on board with this major proposal.
"I have some concerns," Lyon explained.
She said she is worried that the study used to make this proposal that is being used was done in 2019, and times have since changed.
"We need to re-evaluate whether this is really the right time to do this," she said, "or if this is the right way to raise these funds."
"The city is actually in a new landscape now after the pandemic," she added, "from a business standpoint, and from a community standpoint."
She's also concerned about the free parking for property tax payers.
"The city isn't going to be user voter rules it doesn't look like, only property ownership," she said, "so what about all of the renters? What about all the people who can't afford to truly own in this town?"
Similarly concerned is Lynn Negen, who owns MACKite in downtown Grand Haven and has been there for more than three decades.
"I am generally against it," she said. "I think that maybe down the road there is some opportunity for this, but not yet."
"The city's excuse is that we need money, and that parking isn't free," Negen added, "well, walking the boardwalk isn't free either, but we're not making people pay to use those spaces."
Negen also said that "Grand Haven does not have a parking problem. Grand Haven has a walking problem."
And that's something echoed by Cummins.
"We have enough parking, it's just a matter of where it's at," he said. "Within three to four blocks there are parking spaces, it's just that you might not get the exact spot you want right in front of the restaurant or store you're going to."
"Our lot right next to the Ottawa County court building, and the lot right next to our community center are really under-utilized," he added.
No official vote has been held or scheduled, but the paid parking program is tentatively built into the 2023 budget plan.
"Why would we take money away from the merchants, and it will," said Negen. "There is no plan B, so I'd ask council, if this proposal doesn't work, then what?"
McGinnis said next Monday, April 25, the city council will be discussing the 2022-2023 budget and parking will be a part of the discussion.
You can read more of the proposal for paid parking and read the research done by the committee by clicking here.
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