Archive for Thursday, June 10, 1999

CITY, MALL OWNERS TO MULL FREE PARKING

June 10, 1999

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The city's Downtown Parking Advisory Board also will consider ways to adjust fees, time limits and other turnover-producing regulations for municipal parking lots downtown, Lawrence city commissioners decided Tuesday.

If owners of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza want free parking, they'll have to do more than agree to sweep, paint and clean the city's parking garage next door.

Tuesday night, Lawrence city commissioners rejected a proposal from Riverfront L.L.C. that would have given the company responsibility for the garage's day-to-day maintenance in exchange for elimination of the garage's 50-cent parking fees.

Instead, commissioners told City Manager Mike Wildgen to enter negotiations with Riverfront, whose partners contend that free parking is "critical" to landing new tenants -- and resulting jobs and sales-tax revenues -- for half of the mall's 150,000 square feet of space.

"I do believe that this facility needs to be free," Wildgen said, "but we also need to make it not an expense to the city at large."

No timeline was set for a possible deal, but Riverfront representatives said that they hoped to have an agreement in place by July 1.

"We've never taken the position that it's our way or no way," said Bill Newsome, a partner in the local ownership group. "I don't think that we have a philosophical disagreement. We aren't asking for a free lunch. The question now is whether we can come up with a middle ground that works, and I'm reasonably confident that we can."

The city built the 510-space garage in 1989, part of a deal to bring an outlet mall to Sixth and New Hampshire streets. The mall's popularity has dwindled over the years, however, and six months ago its owners sold the building to Riverfront.

Newsome said that the city's revenues from the 50-cent parking fee allowed the garage only to "break even" in terms of financing operations. His partnership offered to take over daily maintenance, worth up to $40,000 a year.

Wildgen argued that the public investment in the garage -- it cost $2.3 million to build -- should require a larger investment from Riverfront for free parking.

He suggested making 4,800 square feet in the mall's top level available for city use, plus paying $50,000 to help make up the resulting shortfall in the city's parking fund.

As negotiations begin for the garage, Mayor Erv Hodges will ask the city's own Downtown Parking Advisory Board to consider ways to adjust fees, time limits and other turnover-producing regulations for municipal parking lots downtown.

The reason: Many changes are in store for downtown's parking system, including construction of a new public-private garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire, reconstruction of a long-term lot for the 800 block of New Hampshire and a relocation of a city lot to the northwest corner of 10th and Vermont streets.

The advisory board will be given no marching orders, other than to collect plenty of public input before making recommendations, Hodges said.

"Periodically, you have to look at yourself and see if you're doing it right," he said.

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

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