Parking roulette

The new Greektown Casino hasn’t even opened yet, but Lynnette Aranow is already seeing the losers begin to pile up.

Aranow, who works at the Wayne County Register of Deeds office in Greektown, says that co-workers are being pushed out of privately run lots in the area to make room for gamblers who will begin streaming in when the casino opens. Pending final state approval, the casino is scheduled to begin operating Nov. 10.

Office workers who had been paying $70 per month to park in private lots are being told such passes will no longer be issued starting Nov. 1. In addition, the daily flat rates in area lots is being jacked up. Instead of paying $4 to $7, people can expect to pay at least $10 to park in most of the private lots in and around Greektown, according to lot attendants in the area.

That is, if they can find a space at all.

“Things are already chaotic,” says Aranow. “People don’t know what they are going to do.”

Last week Aranow collected some 200 signatures for a letter she sent to Nelson Westrin, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, asking that the issue be addressed before the casino is given final approval to operate.

Frustration, Aranow says, is being expressed by Wayne County employees, City of Detroit employees, customers and other private businesses.

“I can not begin to convey to you the detailed expressions of discouragement people have related to me,” wrote Aranow. She said people are concerned about facing either higher costs — at $10 per day, workers would face yearly parking fees of about $2,500 — or longer workdays spent commuting from parking lots outside the area.

Adequate, convenient parking is a crucial ingredient if a casino is to succeed, according to experts.

“You can never have too much parking,” observes Jim Mundy, spokesperson for Casino Windsor.

Given that, the Greektown site — located in an active commercial district — had more obstacles to overcome than its rivals. The MGM and Motor City temporary casinos both have more parking available on-site.

According to spokesperson Jack Barthwell, Motor City Casino has about 3,500 parking spaces available for its customers, including 3,100 spaces in a newly constructed, heated garage. The remaining spots in adjoining surface lots, like the garage, are all free.

Even with that many spaces available, “Some nights we get awfully full,” says Barthwell.

Likewise, the MGM Casino has 3,200 spaces of free parking for its customers in two on-site structures.

In Greektown, casino operators hope to have 2,500 spaces available for its customers when the doors open. Spokesperson Roger Martin told Metro Times last week that Greektown Casino was negotiating with two area lots to secure customer parking, guaranteeing the new gambling hall will have all the parking space it needs for customers. Unlike Detroit’s other two temporary casinos, however, those spaces will be in lots and structures already in use. By displacing people already using those lots to provide free parking to casino customers, space in the area — already at a premium during certain hours — is becoming even more costly.

For the casino operators and some city officials, that’s the cost of progress.

Martin and mayoral spokesman Greg Bowens both cited the cost of parking in major-league cities such as Chicago as justification for the increased fees that will result from the ripple effect the Greektown Casino will create.

“You go to Chicago and it’s hard to park, and when you do find a place to park, it costs money,” observed Bowens.

Asked why the casino was allowed to open without having enough parking space of its own to provide customers without taking existing spaces, Bowens said the city is not obligated to regulate casino parking issues.

He added, however, that the casinos are not the only ones adding to parking pressure downtown. Over the next five years, he said, an estimated 15,000 new employees coming downtown — an area ranging from the riverfront to the financial district to around the Fox Theatre and Comerica Park — will need parking spaces, and that the city is addressing the problem. The underground parking structure being built at the former Hudson’s site is one example of preparing to meet that need. Bowens also points out that there is plenty of parking available at other city facilities, such as the parking structures at Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Hall.

“There is going to have to be some adjustment,” says Bowens. “People are going to have to look around for the best deal possible.”

The promise of more parking in the future doesn’t do much to appease Aranow and others like her. Neither does the prospect of having to choose between parking blocks from work or paying rates of $10 per day or more.

“This issue should have been addressed years ago,” she wrote in her letter to the Michigan Gaming Control Board. “In fact, I started to write and question my superiors over three years ago and was brushed off or forgotten. What about all the citizens and other business people that have to use these offices? Where are they going to park? How are they gong to be able to afford to park here or navigate the chaos caused by this lack of foresight on the part of our elected officials?”

Curt Guyette is the Metro Times news editor. Send comments to [email protected] or call
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