Rotary Park has become a new focal point for downtown Lansing, a highlight of the River Trail that meanders along the east bank of the Grand River.
But on the west bank of the Grand? An ugly Brutalist parking garage from 1968 rises from the water’s edge, blocking the public from strolling or even witnessing Lansing’s natural resource.
This is not a ding on the parking garage itself, which seems to have as good of service as any, although at $20 a day, it’s more costly than other garages in the area. To its credit, the garage does actually have a concrete walkway in the rear that overlooks the river, although this forlorn space seems more of a hideaway for smokers sneaking a puff, given the cigarette butts strewn about.
Motorists driving down the urban canyon of Grand Avenue have no way of telling that the river lies less than 200 feet away. The view is blocked by the hulking garage and other impersonal buildings, such as the Michigan Department of Corrections offices at the foot of the Michigan Avenue bridge.
South Grand Avenue is one of the sadder corridors in downtown Lansing. Not only is the river blocked from view, the other side of the street is met with deserted parking lots and vacant buildings.
Mayor Andy Schor said the ramp was constructed at a time the industrial city of Lansing was ashamed of their river. “The city wanted to hide the river because it was so polluted,” he said.
Schor said while he’d be happy to entertain an offer from a developer to tear down the garage, build a new one across the street and revitalize the current space with something open to the river, it’s not on any list of city priorities nor something the city itself has the money for.
The city of Lansing owned the 800-space garage but sold it to private hands at the fire sale price of $1.5 million back in August 2008, amid a flurry of sell offs of public property during the Virg Bernero administration.
By contrast, the city sold its 1,500-space Townsend Parking Ramp, which is two blocks closer to the Capitol, to the Michigan Senate for $18 million this past winter.
The city took in $6.7 million in parking revenues in 2018, an increase of about $30,000 from the year before. But that money goes into an enterprise fund for the maintenance and repair of the parking system, and cannot be readily used for other purposes. South Grand Parking paid $75,000 a year in property taxes, according to the Lansing city assessor website.