Friday, December 11, 2015

Time to Move Forward on a Garage

I could not agree more with this morning's editorial about the garage.  See editorial below with a little yellow highlighting from me.

The Mayor had been concerned about the strength of Council support for the intermodal garage at the Titcomb Street site.

Last night we did have a constructive meeting between seven current sitting Councillors (myself, Councillors Connell, Cronin, Eigerman, Giunta, Tontar and Vogel) and the Mayor. 

While no formal action was necessary or taken at this time, those Councillors present all stated their support for the Titcomb site and making it happen.

While the $16M figure is bigger than what was originally intended, we agreed that we should move forward.  It was noted that the last garage proposal several years ago was $12M.  Garages are expensive projects but this is one that the City needs and can afford.  The benefits include reducing parking on the waterfront and creating opportunity for an expanded park, capturing visitor vehicular traffic as it comes into downtown, and expanding capacity to be able to handle the busy seasons in the summer and holidays.

We agreed in principle that the sources of the financing, which include $2 million from the feds and $5 million from the state, would include debt to be covered by future parking revenue as well as a smaller amount from general obligation bonds to be paid from the annual operating budget.

Councillors-elect Devlin and Zeid were also present and asked good questions about anticipated parking revenue and the ability to cover debt out of the existing operating budget.

The Mayor was encouraged by Councillors to continue negotiating with New England Development about land acquisition.

Many important aspects of this project need to be worked on in terms of overall parking policy, traffic flow, garage aesthetics, and abutter impact.  We will continue to move ahead on those matters.

'Sticker shock' casts shadow on Port's parking garage

Posted: Friday, December 11, 2015 3:00 am
It’s never been easy, trying to fit a parking garage into downtown Newburyport. And it’s not getting any easier. But the city does need one, and Newburyport officials need to muscle their way through the problems to finally getting it built.
In recent weeks there’s been a lot of what we’d call “sticker shock” over the cost of the parking garage. It’s understandable, because the pricetag is indeed a shocker. But Newburyport is running out of options. If it wants to see economic growth continue, and if it wants to see the bulk of its central waterfront developed into a park, it needs to build a garage.
The latest plan involves a 345-space garage at the corner of Titcomb and Merrimac streets. It’s a spot that’s been the preferred location for years, but there’s a problem. The price is far higher than expected. At $16 million, it’s about one third higher than some of the early numbers that were floated around. And of that $16 million, the city of Newburyport would have to come up with $9 million — the feds and the state will pay the rest.
And there’s another glaring problem — how many actual spots will the city end up with when the garage is finally built? That’s a big unknown. The land on which the garage will be built is owned by New England Development, which is said to want 90 spots in exchange for the land. The mayor has been privately negotiating this deal, and so the details of exactly how many spots NED may end up with have not been made public. Also, there’s a plan to remove 100 or so parking spots from the waterfront lots, once the garage is built, in order to accommodate more grassy park on the waterfront.
At a cost of $16 million, Newburyport may end up with a net gain of just 100 to 150 spots. That’s a terrible deal. And it doesn’t count the cost of developing the waterfront park, which is estimated to cost another few million dollars.
But the bullet needs to be bitten, and the deal made more economical wherever possible. The city’s failure to act in prior years has led to a steady escalation in the cost of building a garage. As the city’s tourist economy grows, the costs will keep pace. There will never be an ideal time to build a garage. The longer it is delayed, the more expensive it becomes.
Newburyport is one of the last remaining cities in this region that doesn’t have a parking garage in its downtown. It has wanted one for more than three decades, but in every case the plans have failed to launch. A little over a decade ago, the city walked away from a $5 million grant that would have paid for almost all the cost of building a large garage on Titcomb Street. It’s also seen plans to build garages on the Green Street lot and the Prince Place lot fall apart — Green Street was unacceptable due to site development costs and the financial loss that downtown businesses would have to swallow by having the lot closed for a year, and Prince Place required the taking of an expensive adjoining property.
The city has a burgeoning commercial downtown that is straining to keep pace with the parking needs. Much of it is driven by the city’s vibrant restaurant scene, and its appealing waterfront. It used to be that the very busy season — the time of year when a parking garage was badly needed — was restricted to the summer months, but in recent years the season has extended. Now it runs from May through the holidays.
The need for a garage is clear. The biggest impediments are the cost and the net gain in parking spots. These are the two aspects that will require the finest effort on the part of the mayor and city officials, to pare down costs and maximize the gained parking spots.

No comments: