By the time Kansas University opens its home football season on Sept. 7, fans may have a hulking new structure to talk about: the city's Vermont Street parking garage.
City officials announced Monday that the city and university will again be teaming up to run football gameday shuttles from downtown Lawrence to Memorial Stadium. Although the new garage hasn't opened, the announcement included the site on the 700 block of Vermont Street as one of the shuttle stops.
City Manager David Corliss isn't ready to guarantee that the garage will be open by the Sept. 7 opener, but he's throwing around a word that often gets tossed out at the beginning of a new season.
"I'm hopeful," Corliss said. "The project was delayed some by rains that were good for the community but bad for the construction project."
Currently, the 324-space parking garage is awaiting a key delivery, Corliss said—railings for the stairs and other areas of the garage.
"There are a lot of other things that still need to be finished, but we could finish them while we have the garage open," Corliss said. "Those railings need to be in before we can let the public start using it."
The city will offer shuttle rides from downtown to Kansas University's Memorial Stadium on each KU home football gameday this season.
The service, which began in 2007, will again charge customers $1 per ride. Parking in the city's garage at Ninth and New Hampshire, however, will be free on gamedays. Parking on the lower level of the Riverfront Parking garage in the 600 block of New Hampshire also will be free. Parking in the city's new garage in the 700 block of Vermont Street also is expected to be free on gamedays for at least a portion of the season, City Manager David Corliss said.
The shuttle will run two hours prior to kickoff and will continue for one hour after each game ends, or until no additional postgame passengers are present.
Fans can catch the shuttle at three different locations downtown:
• On the south side of Ninth Street, immediately east of Massachusetts Street;
• At the corner of Sixth and New Hampshire streets, in front of the Riverfront Parking Garage
• On the west side of Eighth Street, in front of the Douglas County Senior Services Center. The location also is adjacent to the new Vermont Street Parking Garage
Corliss said the city will open the Vermont Street garage even before it decides how to charge motorists to use the facility.
"In the beginning, we will just open it up and allow the public to park for free there," Corliss said.
City officials earlier this month delayed a plan that would have put automated, credit-card-paid gates on the garage. When city officials found out the per-transaction fees credit card companies would charge for the service, commissioners questioned the financial viability of the idea.
Corliss said he expects to have a report to commissioners in the next couple of weeks detailing a menu of options related to the parking garage. He said he's worked to reduce the transaction fees related to the credit card issue, but he wasn't sure whether the reduction would be enough to make the idea viable.
"We're still sorting through that," he said.
Corliss said commissioners also will have the option of setting parking rates in the Vermont Street garage much like they are structured in the New Hampshire Street garage, where about half of the spaces are two-hour free parking spaces and the rest are 10-hour parking spaces that can be purchased for $1.
At the moment, the top level of the New Hampshire Street garage also offers free long-term parking. But Corliss said he's going to recommend charging motorists to park in the top-level spaces. He said he'll make that recommendation next month, and if approved by commissioners, it is likely to be implemented before the end of the year. Corliss said the free parking originally was meant to encourage more people to use the New Hampshire Street garage, but usage is no longer a problem.
Traffic at the Vermont Street parking garage might be slow in the beginning too, Corliss said. The garage is adjacent to the Lawrence Public Library expansion project, which won't be open until the summer of 2014.
But Corliss believes motorists eventually will begin to discover that the garage will provide prime parking for some of the busier destinations in the northern end of downtown. The garage will have approximately twice as many parking spots as the location's previous surface parking lot.
Corliss said he thinks the public also will end up appreciating the new design of the garage. Much of the exterior of the garage is covered with a mesh, screen-like material.
"We're pleased with the amount of light that lets in, and the general open feel that you get when you are in the garage," Corliss said. "We're very pleased with the project overall. It is just often times the last five percent of a project can be the toughest to get completed."