Traverse City News and Events

DDA To Consider Parking Changes, Hiring Firm To Study Future Direction For Downtown

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 21, 2022

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members will hear from staff about several planned parking changes at their 8:30am meeting today (Friday) that could affect public parking at the Governmental Center, make parking permits non-transferable, and offer a solution for handling garage users when they don’t have enough money for parking. DDA board members will also consider approving a $115,000 contract with a national firm to analyze the future of the DDA and downtown Traverse City, including different possible governance structures for the DDA, alternative revenue-sharing and funding models, and a market assessment of the downtown restaurant and retail industries.

Parking Changes
DDA board members will consider making a recommendation to city commissioners to approve a new agreement between the city and Grand Traverse County outlining how the Governmental Center parking lot will be managed. The county and city jointly own the Governmental Center, while the DDA – which handles parking for the city – manages enforcement at the lot.

The new agreement would convert the southern section of the Governmental Center parking lot, which contains 103 parking spaces, into a permit lot rather than a public lot. The change “will remove daytime parking for visitors to the Governmental Center,” according to DDA Transportation Mobility Director Nicole VanNess. Twenty-five metered spaces and six handicap spaces will still be available for public use in the northern section of the lot closest to the building.

The change comes at the request of county officials, according to VanNess, who said that in 2019 the county asked “to expand parking enforcement to include the public employee parking lot south of the Governmental Center building, as this lot frequently reached capacity.” County commissioners approved the new agreement terms this week; if city commissioners follow suit, permit signs will be installed in the southern lot. County and city human resource departments will be responsible for issuing and tracking employee permits. The DDA will have to spend more time patrolling the parking lot under the new agreement, according to VanNess, but will also receive money from fines. Parking violation fees go into the DDA’s parking fund, while revenues – monies paid by people to park in the lot – are split between the county (74 percent) and city (26 percent). The split reflects the county-city ownership breakdown of the Governmental Center.

Other parking changes could soon be coming to downtown Traverse City. According to VanNess, the DDA is working on an ordinance change that would make parking permits non-transferable. Most cities have such a policy in place, according to VanNess, but the lack of an ordinance in Traverse City means many short-term renters are using other people’s permits and improperly parking in garages. “We have sent a letter to all known short-term rentals owners and operators in the downtown area to inform them of a policy change that is being prepared by staff,” VanNess wrote in a memo to the DDA board. “We are working on an ordinance change that would make permits non-transferable and require all short-term renters to pay hourly rates or purchase their own permit. This change will allow for staff to directly communicate with the purchaser on how to use the permit.”

In addition to the permit change, the DDA is working on an ordinance that would allow for the collection of “short-money fees” at parking garages. “There is not currently a way to collect money from motorists who park in the garage and are unable to pay,” according to VanNess. “This change will allow for the issuance of a parking citation to the vehicle that exits as a short-money. If the short-money payment is made, the citation would be reduced. But if the short-money payment is not collected, the citation would stand and follow existing escalation, notice letter, and collection processes.”

Also on the parking front, VanNess notified DDA board members that the city’s new smart meter sensors – which were installed in key parking areas downtown this summer – are not functioning properly. The sensors are supposed to track vehicle occupancy in parking spots, but have not been not working as intended. “Occupancy reports are lower than expected. On some days, 100 percent utilization may reflect 80 percent occupancy rates,” VanNess wrote. “To be clear, this is a sensor only issue, and has no effect on the motorists paying at the meters. By system design, the sensors are programmed to always err on the side of the motorist.” VanNess said that the company that sold the sensors to the city, CivicSmart, has also been unable to solve the data capture issue and has recommended replacing the inground sensors with pole-mounted sensors. VanNess said such a replacement would occur at no cost to the city, but that staff are still exploring if it’s viable option as “there are concerns of potential damage to pole mount sensors, especially during snow removal.”

DDA Contract To Plan For Organization’s Future
DDA board members will also vote Friday on approving a not-to-exceed $115,000 contract with national consulting firm Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) to review the current structure of the DDA and “explore opportunities to modernize the downtown organization that better addresses the current and future needs of downtown Traverse City,” according to DDA CEO Jean Derenzy.

Board members previously approved including up to $100,000 in the DDA budget for the strategic planning project, which will include an analysis of different potential governance structures for the DDA going forward as well as a “new plan for tax increment financing and business development that includes a new revenue-sharing model and provide other potential funding source scenarios,” according to Derenzy. PUMA would also complete a detailed market assessment of downtown Traverse City’s retail and restaurant sectors, summarizing “emerging downtown trends and best practices from cities and downtowns around the country.” While PUMA was the only company that bid on the DDA’s request-for-proposals (RFP), Derenzy says she’s confident moving forward with the Denver-based firm – who would work with Traverse City’s Parallel Solutions on community outreach – as PUMA has extensive experience working with downtowns across the country, including Downtown Grand Rapids. The DDA’s general fund has room to accommodate the additional $15,000 requested in PUMA’s contract beyond the budgeted $100,000, according to Derenzy.

Going through a pandemic, with the potential expiration of the DDA’s TIF 97 plan looming (one of two main funding sources for DDA projects) and some questioning whether the DDA is still relevant or needed given the general success of downtown, Derenzy says the time is right now to plan for the future of the organization. She notes other downtowns throughout the country use a variety of operational models that could also potentially work in Traverse City. On a funding front, the DDA could explore a path that would share TIF revenues with other local taxing jurisdictions – a source of contention among some of those partners – while still bringing in enough funding to invest in projects like sidewalk, bridge, street, and river improvements. Simply dissolving the DDA and dumping all of downtown planning efforts and repair projects and costs onto the city’s lap isn’t “feasible,” Derenzy says, but significantly restructuring the DDA for the future could be.

“Throughout Michigan, throughout the U.S., every great city has a thriving downtown…and an organization dedicated to focusing on that downtown,” she says. “Being the largest downtown in northern Michigan, we just need to look at things differently and see if there’s a new vision, a new opportunity for the next 10, 20, and 30 years. We can’t just look at what we already know. We need to understand what else is possible for our community.”

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