No one disputes that Lansing Community College is an important anchor institution in Lansing and a significant economic driver in the city’s downtown. And, despite a significant decline in enrollment over the last decade, there is no denying that meeting LCC’s parking needs for faculty, staff and students continues to be a major challenge. The college’s parking crunch is certainly complicated by the imminent need to repair or replace the aging Gannon parking ramp on Grand Avenue. While we acknowledge these truths, we stand with those who oppose LCC’s plan to build a new, five-story parking ramp next to the newly renovated Oliver Towers, now known as Capitol View.
LCC officials say the new ramp would provide temporary parking capacity during the Gannon project. Yet building a massive parking ramp on the surface lot next to downtown Lansing’s newest residential development would not just block the view of residents on the north side of the building, diminishing the value of the significant investment made by the Eyde Company to bring the fire-damaged building back to life. It would also be a less-than-optimal use of scarce developable real estate along a major downtown thoroughfare.
One obvious alternative would be to build the new parking structure one block north of the proposed site on the large surface parking lot owned by LCC, alleviating the problems posed by building next to Capitol View. The block is already home to LCC’s University Center, and the property is directly adjacent to LCC’s main campus across Capitol Avenue, rather than a block to the south. That said, we’re not excited about a towering parking ramp being constructed in the heart of a downtown residential area, nor are neighborhood residents sold on the idea. (Full disclosure: City Pulse publisher Berl Schwartz lives adjacent to the site.)
We think there is a better alternative. A decade ago, LCC made a strong overture to the City of Lansing to purchase the city’s 600-space North Capitol parking ramp. The deal was never consummated due to political gamesmanship that resulted in LCC’s withdrawing their offer to buy the ramp. It’s time to revisit the idea.
Taking the long view, it would be a smart move for the City of Lansing to offload the ramp to LCC. If and when City Hall is relocated, perhaps to a site in the downtown’s southern tier, the city offices located on the ground floor of the ramp presumably can and should move to the new City Hall. In the meantime, LCC could lease the space back to the city as part of the sale transaction. The ramp’s ground floor could eventually be repurposed for expanded student-oriented retail or other commercial uses.
In the meantime, LCC could use North Capitol as a temporary replacement for the Gannon ramp while it undergoes reconstruction. Current users of North Capitol, many of whom are City of Lansing employees, could relocate to the city-owned, 866-space South Capitol Ramp or the now state-owned parking ramp on Townsend Street. When the new Gannon ramp is complete, LCC can evaluate the fate of the North Capitol ramp, with options to include renovation — if there is still a need for additional parking capacity — or tearing it down. A new ramp could also be built on the same location, which is appealing from an urban planning perspective since the land use remains the same, or, because the site is contiguous to LCC’s landlocked campus, it could play an important role in the college’s future growth.
Mayor Andy Schor has been surprisingly ambivalent toward the LCC proposal, perhaps because he is trying to maintain positive relationships with an important city institution. He has also suggested that a new parking ramp could be built in a way that allows for conversion to other uses if and when the ramp is no longer needed. We would like to see the mayor take a more decisive position and use the power of his office to persuade LCC to take another look at viable alternatives, especially the acquisition of the North Capitol Ramp.
For its part, we hope the Lansing City Council doesn’t just roll over for LCC and approve whatever proposal they put forward. We’re encouraged by Council President Peter Spadafore’s initial opposition to the plan and hope it gives rise to a thorough evaluation of selling the North Capitol Ramp to LCC. In the end, LCC is likely to get what it wants, but we’re hopeful that city leaders will at least do their due diligence in exploring alternatives.
LCC President Brent Knight will retire this summer, leaving a lasting legacy of purposeful transformation that recast the college’s downtown campus as a showcase of smart design and placemaking that highlights the power of architecture, landscaping and public art to enhance the aesthetic appeal of urban spaces. It would be a shame if a misplaced parking ramp was the final act of his visionary and impactful tenure as the institution’s leader.