Governmental Middle, Renovations Parking Changes Underway

Significant changes are underway at the Governmental Center in Traverse City, including a $300,000-plus renovation of the commission chambers and multiple meeting rooms with technology upgrades–plus the conversion of the large southern parking lot to employee permit-only parking during weekdays.

Grand Traverse County and the City of Traverse City share ownership of the Governmental Center, with the county owning 74 percent and the city 26 percent. The two municipalities are splitting costs along those percentage lines to complete building renovations, including overhauling the main commission chambers used by the city and county commissions and multiple other local boards. The initial project estimate was $290,535, though County Administrator Nate Alger says the final budget will be at least $19,000 more due to change orders.

Supply chain issues have delayed completing construction – which started several months ago – but crews have already finished remodeling the building’s committee room and training room, “which were completely antiquated,” Alger says. City and county commissioners are now using the remodeled training room for meetings while work is underway on the main commission chambers. To accommodate the county commission’s expansion from seven to nine members, a new dais is being constructed to replace the modular desks previously used by commissioners. The dais is supposed to be delivered the week of January 30. While officials initially hoped the project would be completed in time for commissioners to move in at the beginning of the year, the target now is by the end of February, Alger says.

Other commission chambers renovations are designed to improve public engagement at commission meetings. A new large-screen TV will be installed behind the commission seating so that audience members can clearly see presentation materials during meetings. A side wall display with four 55-inch monitors will also ensure audience members and commissioners can see visual materials from different room angles. All of the technology upgrades will be integrated with Traverse Area Community Media equipment for live streaming and recording purposes.

Another major electronics upgrade will provide interoperability between the commission chambers and other Governmental Center training and meeting rooms, including two-way cameras and audio transmission. If a commission meeting draws an overflow crowd, that will allow attendees to go into a backup room and still watch the proceedings, as well as be seen and heard while giving public comment. Off-site presenters will also be able to see the commission chambers and audience and have two-way engagement. That interoperability will not only improve presentations during commission meetings but could also prove crucial during emergencies, allowing officials to be piped in from different off-site locations for discussions, Alger says.

The chambers haven’t been improved “for decades,” Alger says, with their lack of modern amenities becoming painfully clear during the pandemic with the rise of remote and livestreamed meetings. “We routinely have issues with AV, where people can’t hear or see the presentations in the chambers,” he says. “The remote era brought a lot of these deficiencies to our attention. It was just not sufficient.”

Changes are also underway in the Governmental Center parking lot. County and city commissioners recently signed off on a plan to use the southern half of the lot – which has 103 spaces and is bordered by Boardman Avenue, Eighth Street, and the Boardman River – for staff and commissioner permit parking during weekdays. Permit parking will be enforced Monday-Friday 8am-4pm. During those hours, the public can no longer park for free in the southern lot (vehicles without permits will be ticketed). Visitors will need to park in the metered spaces directly in front of the Governmental Center. That northern lot has 25 metered spaces, plus eight restricted and six handicap spaces.

Free parking will be available in the southern permit lot after 4pm and before 8am on weekdays, as well as all day Saturday and Sunday. Meters in front of the Governmental Center are enforced Monday-Saturday 8am-6pm, with free parking outside of those times. Free parking is also available on nearby neighborhood streets, as well as in the courthouse parking lot.

Alger says parking was always intended to work this way at the Governmental Center, but it was “never enforced and the signage was inadequate,” he says. With new developments coming online around the Governmental Center, such as Commongrounds opening across the street, administrators were increasingly concerned about parking pressures being put on the lot that would squeeze out employees. At last count, 269 employees were working on-site, Alger says, in addition to commissioners and other elected officials and department heads who come and go for meetings and other business. Parking concerns prompted staff to approach both the city and county boards about updating the agreement and beginning implementing parking lot permitting and enforcement.

The Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA), which manages parking within the city, agreed at the city and county’s request to increase enforcement at the Governmental Center parking lot under the plan. The city and county split revenues from parking meters based on their ownership percentage of the Governmental Center, while revenue from tickets/violations go into the DDA parking fund. DDA Transportation Mobility Director Nicole VanNess says the DDA is working with the city and county HR departments now to issue and test employee parking permits. Enforcement in the permit lot is expected to start on Monday, January 16, according to VanNess.

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