April 1 2009 12:00 AM

There’s money in this year’s Lansing city budget for a new parking ramp to support development on the east side of the Grand River.

At a time when the city of Lansing has projected a $6 million deficit, it is also seeking to set aside $6 million to build a new parking ramp in the vicinity of the Lansing Center.

The money for the parking ramp appears in Mayor Virg Bernero’s executive budget recommendation for the 2009-10 fiscal year and notes that $3 million more would be needed to actually build the ramp.

The $6 million would come from the parking services fund, and the additional $3 million might be bonded for. No general fund money would be for the ramp.

“There’s an evolution of the parking system. I’ve said this to Council on many occasions,” Bob Johnson, director of the Department of Planning and Neighborhood Development, said.

Johnson pointed to the purchase of the BoarsHead Theater property at Grand Avenue and Lenawee Street. The city wants to construct a ramp on the property to accommodate the new state police headquarters and other downtown attractions.

“We’re going where we’re going to be needed — where we see development occurring,” Johnson said of the decision to build the new ramp. He said the new ramp would most likely go east of the Lansing Center and include a small commercial element.

Johnson wouldn’t give any details on the exact location of the ramp, saying the final location would be determined in part by available land and the cost to acquire it, if the city does have to purchase land. A best-case scenario would see construction begin by the end of the year, but more likely about a year from now, Johnson said.

If you take stock of the ramps the city has sold or sought to sell in the past few years — the South Grand Avenue ramp to developer Shawn Elliott as part of the Capitol Club Tower deal, the North Grand Avenue ramp expansion to the Accident Fund as part of the Ottawa Street power station redevelopment, and the repeatedly proposed sale of the North Capitol ramp to Lansing Community College, which is now stalled in front of Council — it might see like the city is trying to get out of the parking ramp business.

That suspicion has been made into an accusation by speakers, some whom work for the city, during City Council public comment sessions. The city is in a parking deficit, they’ve argued, and the parking fund pays for maintenance and staffing of the city owned ramps. Everyone needs a parking spot downtown, they say, so why in the world would the city get out of the parking business?

Johnson stressed that the city has no intention of dumping all of its ramps.

There is a definite need for parking in the area east of the Grand River with Oldsmobile Park, several bars and restaurants, the Lansing Center and the proposed Market Place development by developer Pat Gillespie. All those attractions dot a chunk of land with little available parking.

“We have systems in place to support private development,” Johnson said. He called it a strategic move; one that he hoped would pay off in securing the future of downtown business.

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