The Lansing Planning Board will hold a public hearing next week to consider a controversial rezoning request and special land use permit for Lansing Community College to build a new five-story parking ramp downtown on Capitol Avenue.
“Oh, great, more downtown parking,” said City Council President Peter Spadafore, with a tone of heavy sarcasm.
“We’re talking about switching Capitol Avenue to a two-way street to create a more walkable downtown,” he added, “and here we are talking about a five-story place to store cars being erected on the same block.
“I don’t support this. I can’t support this.”
Lansing last year edged past Hicksville, New York for the title of the worst “parking crater” in the nation, according to Streets Blog. The local landscape — consumed by massive swathes of street-level parking — is a model of inefficiency and wastes the city’s development potential, according to the nonprofit news group.
LCC’s solution: Build more parking.
The college’s Board of Trustees earlier this year approved $51 million in construction plans to build a new parking deck on the current site of student parking Lot 23 along the south side of west Shiawassee Street between Seymour and Capitol avenues. It is adjacent to the Edye Co.’s recently completed Capitol View apartment building conversion of the old Oliver Towers. The ramp would block views on the north side for five stories.
If approved, shovels could hit the dirt within the next few months. Thee Planning Board will make a recommendation to the City Council, which has the final say.
The new construction is part of a longer-term plan to demolish and reconstruct the existing Gannon parking structure on Grand Avenue, which was built in 1976 and according to officials, is more than a decade past its maximum serviceable life. The goal: Ensure students on LCC’s downtown campus have a place to park after that ramp comes down.
“Over the past several years, the college has been required to make increasingly significant repairs to keep the ramp operational,” according to a recent report to the college’s Board of Trustees that requested the project funding. “Before the degradation of the ramp starts becoming a life-safety hazard, a new ramp must be built.”
If all goes as planned, LCC aims to finish construction on its new ramp later this year and have the Gannon ramp demolished and fully reconstructed by the fall semester of 2022. According to an article published in the LCC student newspaper The Lookout, the construction plans would add 686 new parking spaces between the two parking ramps.
“It’s one of the worst ideas for downtown Lansing,” said Linda Peckham, the resident owner of a nearby condominium development she and her husband repurposed from a nunnery. “People have worked very hard to ensure we have a neighborly, friendly and walkable downtown area. I don’t see how another parking ramp is going to help. The solution is not to hoist a five-story parking ramp in the middle of a historic residential neighborhood.”
Despite on-campus enrollment dropping from a high of 22,126 in 2010 to 12,882 in 2017, LCC officials said the project is aimed at addressing “critical parking needs” on its downtown campus, reports state. Over the past several years, “increasingly significant” repairs to the Gannon ramp have taken a toll on the college’s budget.
Failure to complete the project, according to board reports, could force the college to suddenly lose 979 student parking spaces should the Gannon ramp be condemned for “life-safety hazards.” If that occurs, neither the city of Lansing nor the Accident Fund have enough extra parking in their nearby ramps to meet student demand, records state.
But in prior interviews with City Pulse, LCC President Brent Knight — who is retiring this summer — highlighted many aesthetic improvements at LCC over the last 10 years as president. His recent departure from that vision for historic preservation is boggling for some.
But for him, there aren’t many other options worthy of consideration.
“We need a place for people to park, and it’s necessary to demolish the Gannon ramp,” Knight explained Tuesday. “I understand the concerns, but we have to accommodate parking. We don’t have another choice. And it’s not just another parking ramp. We’re going to great lengths to make this structure look like a regular building.”
Knight said the ramp will be modeled to look like a residential brick building to better fit in with the aesthetics of the local neighborhood.
“This will not look anything like a typical parking ramp. Underground parking is expensive. That’s not practical. We own other properties, but students would need to cross Saginaw Street to access it there. Our other properties are just too small to construct a parking ramp. If anyone has another suggestion, I’m open to it.”
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor weighed in Tuesday when asked for a comment.
“It is certainly my preference to see new buildings for retail or housing or commercial activity going up in our downtown,” he said by text messge. “I recognize the need for parking and I am happy that surface parking lots will be taken off line with this ramp, but I hope this parking garage can be built in a way that it can be reused in the future for something other than just parking.”
Spadafore said the college has been fairly reluctant about even the possibility of adding in some first-floor retail space or some type of public-private partnership that would allow the ramp to become more of a mixed-use development. Knight said he’s still open to the idea, but, at least at this point, doesn’t see a lucrative market for first-floor retail.
Added Spadafore: “Investing in a parking ramp effectively renders this block of cityscape useless.”
Still, a recent student survey found that LCC students were more dissatisfied with parking than any other issue.
“We like students to be able to come to the college every day and not worry about how they’re going to pay for parking,” Knight told The Lookout earlier this month, noting the project, so far, has been “pretty much on schedule. Once students are here, we like them to stay and utilize all the services of the college and our spaces.”
The $51 million budget for the project will be primarily financed with tax-exempt bond issues of up to $52.5 million. Debt service for those bonds is expected to be repaid through the student parking and general funds. There are no plans to seek any sort of tax incentives or financing from the city to get the project off the ground.
The Lansing Planning Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at the Neighborhood Empowerment Center, 600 W. Maple St., to consider the recent rezoning and special land use request from Lansing Community College. Peckham said she — among several others — will attend to voice their opposition to the construction plans.