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Archive for Wednesday, December 9, 1998

COMMISSIONERS SOLD ON PARKING PROPOSAL

December 9, 1998

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Commissioners concerned about increasing parking in the downtown area are preparing to spend $300,000 to upgrade a lot that would drop from 142 spaces to 102 spaces after construction.

All downtown properties that rely on public parking for their customers, employees and visitors may have to help pay for all future public parking lots downtown, including parking garages.

Call it a team approach.

"I think it's time that downtown became an entity," Commissioner Bob Moody said.

And with that, commissioners agreed unanimously Tuesday night to create a downtown benefit district to help finance the estimated $300,000 reconstruction of a surface lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street.

All private properties in the city's C-3 zoning district -- properties between Sixth and 11th streets that are on both sides of Vermont and Massachusetts streets, plus the west side of New Hampshire Street -- would share the cost of half of the entire project. The city at large would pay the other half.

Judging by preliminary estimates compiled by the city, the total assessment for a typical lot in the benefit district would be $550, which could be spread over a term of up to 10 years.

"That's $50 or $60 a year," City Manager Mike Wildgen said.

The district cannot become official until commissioners conduct a public hearing, likely in January. That's when property owners would have a chance to protest the project's financing.

Moody fears the worst. He's watched as competing downtown interests have been unable to agree on methods for boosting downtown parking, despite their continual calls for adding spaces in the central business district.

The surface lot will include 102 spaces -- down from the 142 currently there -- but will add pavement, landscaping, lights and new meters to help increase its attractiveness, security and use.

"I think there's going to be ample discussion," Moody said.

But the real discussion is expected to come during the coming weeks, when the city's own Downtown Parking Advisory Board meets to discuss the possibility of recommending the financing plan for all future lots.

Commissioners already anticipate the precedent set by the surface lot, but just want to be sure.

"I think it's a fair way to do it," said Terry Sutcliffe, chair of the board and an executive vice president at Mercantile Bank. "There are going to be more and more projects in the downtown, and we think the fair and equitable thing to do is charge it to all members of the downtown."

A formal recommendation from the board won't be expected until early next year, but the charge is clear: If the city wants to build a new parking garage downtown, the board has to decide whether dozens of properties up and down Massachusetts, Vermont and one side of New Hampshire should pick up half of the tab.

Earlier this year, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce estimated the cost of building a 300-space garage between the Lawrence Public Library and Lawrence Senior Center at $4 million.

Translation: The owner of a typical downtown lot would be on the hook for $14,720.

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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