Aug. 17 2009 12:00 AM

Lansing Community College is breaking ground on a big surface lot downtown


In the wake of a parking shortage and the inability to buy the city of Lansing’s North Capitol parking ramp, Lansing Community College has begun paving a chunk of green space along Capitol Avenue for a surface parking lot.

Eric Glohr, head of LCC parking operations, says that the lot will accommodate 219 cars for staff and students and will take up nearly an entire city block behind the old Carnegie Library and the college’s University Center. The lot should be useable by the fall semester.

Acknowledging surface parking lots are not pretty, LCC spokeswoman Chris Hollister said the lot would feature landscaping to hide it a little.

“It will be as attractive as a surface lot can be,” Hollister said. “It’s not ideal, but we were not successful in purchasing the (North Capitol) ramp. We have to move forward.”

Selling the ramp required six votes on City Council. Last fall, the Council split 4-4 on selling LCC the North Capitol ramp for $2.7 million. In April, Mayor Virg Bernero forced a public hearing on selling the ramp, but supporters fell one vote short when the Council voted 5-3 to sell it on May 11.

To the Council members who voted against the sale the second time — At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood, Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson and First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt — the sale of the ramp would have caused a loss in tax revenue by being owned by a nonprofit entity and produced a parking shortage for the city. Further, there was the feeling that the mayor was essentially saying, “Sell the ramp or the neighborhood gets an ugly parking structure.”

Hewitt, when asked recently about the surface lot, said he has no control over what LCC does with its land and believes that not selling the ramp was best for the city. He said that LCC officials had indicated to them that the college’s parking shortage is so severe that even if the city’ ramp was bought, more parking would still have to be built.

Indeed, Hollister said that the surface lot will remain “for quite some time” and the college is still exploring the feasibility of building a ramp on land it owns at the corner of Shiawassee Street and Washington Square — directly behind the North Capitol ramp.

“The surface lot will alleviate some of our problem, but not all of it,” she said.

Meanwhile, local developer Joel Ferguson, who contacted the Council earlier this year about purchasing the ramp, is still looking to buy the ramp from the city — for an amount he would not disclose — and lease it to LCC. He said he has a meeting set for this week with college officials.

All the candidates running for the City Council seat in the 4th Ward, where LCC is located, say they would have voted to sell the ramp. Cynthia Redman, a candidate and vice president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which strongly favored selling the city ramp to LCC, thinks that the installation of the lot might cause some to wake up to the situation. Redman would like to see the Council reverse its decision on the sale, but she thinks it’s probably too late.

Candidate Jessica Yorko said she believes that those who voted against the sale were trying to save city workers, but she thinks that the ramp will be a drain on the budget anyway because it requires maintenance.

Candidate Dennis Burdick said he would have sold it and not “quibbled over a few dollars.”

Glohr said that the college is trying to minimize any damage to the neighborhood and the environment. Lighting will not “spill” into the neighborhood, and he said that traffic might not be an issue because the lot will have high turnover. Surface lots are often criticized as environmental disasters because when it rains, automobile leakage gets washed away and into waterways. Glohr said an existing drainage system on the property should alleviate runoff from going into local waterways.

Look for more parking coming to the LCC area at some point.

“Economically, (a surface lot is) something that is more doable at this point, but it also doesn’t fully address the parking situation,” he said.