Lawrence city commissioners are set to hear a new complaint about the cost to park in downtown Lawrence at their meeting tonight.
But this time it doesn't have anything to do with parking meters. Mike Elwell, owner of the downtown bar Abe & Jake's Landing, 8 E. Sixth St., is seeking to renegotiate his agreement with city officials that allows his customers to use the city-owned parking garage adjacent to the former Riverfront Mall.
Elwell is asking city commissioners to eliminate or significantly reduce the $4,800 per year he is required to pay the city for using the parking garage and the deck on its roof. Abe & Jake's Landing pays rent to the city because the business is in the city-owned building that was the Consolidated Barb Wire Factory. The bar is adjacent to the parking garage and between the SpringHill Suites by Marriott and City Hall.
Since Elwell agreed to the payment in 1999, city officials have negotiated a deal to lease 138 of the garage's parking spaces to the hotel that occupies part of the former Riverfront Mall building. Plus, Elwell said, city vehicles are using numerous spaces in the garage.
"The deal seemed to make sense to us at the time, but in the meantime we have lost half of the upper lot to the Marriott," Elwell said. "I realize why they did that. It is just not what we were expecting when we signed the agreement."
Elwell said on busy nights he now had to pay employees to stand in the parking lot to ensure customers don't park in the Marriott spaces, which are marked in green, and have their cars towed. The situation means many of his customers must park elsewhere than the garage, he said.
But City Manager Mike Wildgen is recommending city commissioners require Elwell pay the $4,800 fee. Wildgen had city officials monitor how many parking spaces were available in the lot for the last six weeks. He said even on busy Friday and Saturday nights, there were always spaces in the garage, usually even some on the upper level.
"If you look at his argument, he's saying there aren't any spaces available," Wildgen said. "The only proof I have is the survey, and the survey showed there clearly were plenty of spaces."
The city's survey found that on no night were there fewer than 14 spaces available on the top level parking deck and 75 spaces on the bottom level.
Wildgen said the bar also was receiving a good deal on the parking. Marriott officials pay an annual fee of $26,496 per year for their 138 spaces. The owners of the Riverfront Plaza building pay $45,120 per year for 235 parking passes for the lower level. The ownership of the Riverfront Plaza includes members of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World. The World Company also owns Sunflower Broadband, which has offices in the Riverfront Plaza building.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.