‘Parklets’ debut in downtown GR, some concerned about safety, loss of parking spots

Posted at 7:11 PM, Aug 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-20 19:21:49-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Diners in downtown Grand Rapids now have a new option when it comes to outdoor eating and drinking.

Three restaurants—Grand Rapids Brewing Co., McFadden's Saloon, and Stella's Lounge—will be the first downtown to feature the new outdoor patios, all three are owned by Barfly Ventures.

Each patio has room for about five tables to seat roughly 25 people.

The parklets were made possible through a partnership between Barfly, Grand Rapids Downtown Inc., and the Downtown Development Authority in an effort to bring more people downtown and offer more, unique dining options for patrons visiting the area.

"It's really designed to get people out in the streets, and really activate the city and make it feel more alive," said Chris Knape, spokesperson for Barfly Ventures.

"By bringing people out, literally onto the street and replacing what had been kind of a boring parking space is now a place that's alive with people having a good time, having some drinks and food."

Each parklet costs about $26,000 to build and install, half of which is paid by Barfly, while the other half is covered by the Downtown Development Authority. It's a concept Knape says could very well branch out beyond restaurants to include other downtown establishments and storefronts.

"We see it as a great partnership opportunity for the city because we do think it brings in a lot more life," he said. "Hopefully people will dine here, have a drink, and they'll continue down the street and also patronize some of the other businesses in downtown."

Reaction on the streets downtown Wednesday among people out walking was mixed when asked by FOX 17 about the new parklets and how they would affect the area.

"I've seen the way people drive down this street… I wouldn't want to get run over in one of those things," said Danica Huizenga while expressing her concerns about the patios being situated right on the road.

Meanwhile, others we spoke with expressed concerns about the loss of parking—each parklet takes up the space of about two parking spots.

"Parking is always an issue down here, I mean Friday and Saturday night pretty much forget about it," said Jeff Martin.

The loss of parking though won't mean a loss of revenue for the city. Knape says the restaurants will have to pay an annual permit fee to use the space and he isn't convinced the outdoor patios will disrupt parking much or will put patrons in any real danger.

"We're trading two parking spaces for vehicles that would've been occupied by one or two people for 24 dining spaces here at GR Brewing Co. so we see that as a huge gain," Knape said.

"We think we've created a safe environment, we've worked with the city, used their specifications to design these and make sure they're as safe as possible so we think's it's a place a lot of people are going to choose to come down and have a good time.

And FOX 17 found plenty of individuals walking downtown Wednesday who plan to do just that, including Nora Vollmer.

"They're awesome, they're great for the city, I think they're a great addition," she said. "It could take up parking but there's parking across the street, there's parking everywhere in Grand Rapids."