Rochester hopes $12 million plan eases parking squeeze

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Rochester — The city boasts scores of restaurants, shops, festivals and holiday events that draw thousands to its popular downtown every year.

What it doesn’t have is a place for them all to park.

Hoping to fix that, the city broke ground earlier this month on a $12 million project to build two tiered parking facilities in the business district that will provide 550 additional spots by next December.

While the city has more than 3,000 street and lot spaces around its downtown, surveys found they weren’t “in the right place” — and visitors and merchants frequently complained of not enough spaces to park.

Ankur Amin, 28, a Royal Oak resident who was in Rochester on Thursday to get a haircut, usually parks in the lot where construction recently began on one of the two new parking platforms.

“I have trouble even when the lot is open,” he said. “It’d be good (to have more parking) but … if it costs something it’ll (be bad).”

Renee Perkins, owner of The Funky Frog Children’s Resale Boutique on Main Street, is looking forward to the new parking.

“I’ve noticed a change in the temperament of some of my customers, especially around lunch hour or the weekend when they can’t find a parking space near us,” she said. “People find they are going to have to park a distance away or drive around the block several times.”

The move to build more parking came after two years of talks and study.

City officials such as Rochester’s city manager, Jaymes Vettraino, prefer calling the new facilities — one east of Main Street, the other on the west side — “platforms” because “parking structure has a scary ring to it.”

“Historically we’ve created parking lots after tearing down obsolete buildings,” Vettraino said. “But what we have been hearing is the parking wasn’t convenient and also that some of the older, more historic buildings in the area should be maintained because they’re part of the Rochester charm.

“We think what we are planning now is going to solve the problems for years to come.”

The new spaces are expected to free up many of the 300 Main Street metered spots that are routinely occupied for hours, often by business district workers who plug the meters.

Neighborhood streets full

A resident who lives on Fourth Street, a couple of blocks from Main Street, said the structures may solve one problem: People parking in neighborhoods to do business downtown.

Vito Corici, 71, said Fourth is “usually filled all week long by people that work at the Art Center.”

Councilwoman Cathy Daldin agreed.

“As a resident, we need places for people to park that’s not on residential streets,” she said.

Rhonda Marentette of Madison Heights, who works as a trucking dispatcher at Detroit Freight in Rochester, is happy about the extra spaces but concerned with the affordability of the new parking platforms.

“If you can’t find 10-hour parking down here, you get tickets. It’s very upsetting,” she said.

Marentette said she’s gotten multiple tickets because her company doesn’t have its own parking lot and complained she received “no notification” of the construction taking place where she normally parks.

The East Platform with a surface lot and one tier will be built on a lot between Fourth and University streets along East. It is expected to be completed in June. The West Platform, with a surface lot and two tiers, is planned west of Main Street along Walnut. Construction is to begin in March and is expected to be completed by November.

The first two hours in the lots will be free, $1 an hour afterward. Free parking with shuttles may be provided at some more distant lots.

To pay for the project, Vettraino said the city is initially taking on the bond debt, which will be supported by parking revenues, including existing meters; a special three-year assessment of $250,000 spread out over a few hundred businesses; and $50,000 annually from the city’s Downtown Development Authority.

Attracting visitors, residents

Vettraino said the new spaces are also expected to help with the extra “burden” of 200 residential units recently approved for construction in the downtown area.

“Rochester has always been unique,” he said. “Its success is probably due to that when you come here you’re going to experience a place. It makes you feel good. Be it the light show, a summer night, or our Arts & Apples Festival. It seems we have a 5K race here every other month. Parking space is a problem, (but) I will gladly deal with that rather than not have too many cars here.”

DDA director Kristie Trevarrow said the new parking is a way the city, established as a settlement in 1817, can look toward its future.

“Downtowns are very competitive,” she said. “We are selling the Rochester experience. Events like the ‘Big Bright Light Show’ annually bring 1 million visitors to Rochester. And it grows every year.

“We are maintaining an atmosphere that young people want to be a part of,” she said, estimating the business district as 60 percent restaurant/shopping and 40 percent office space.

“Today’s college grads are looking at where they want to live, then find a job there. Not the other way around.”

(248) 338-0319

Detroit News Staff Writer Derek Draplin contributed.