Would you pay to park?

It’s among the options for a downtown parking garage.

On the list of universally loathed activities, few items rank higher than a root canal.

Except maybe this one.

“Nobody likes paying for parking garages,” said Chuck Depew, who is among those studying the feasibility of such a structure for downtown Winslow.

Neither do people like paying each time they park their car, he added. Nonetheless, metered parking may be an option for funding a portion of a planned parking garage downtown.

Charging $1 per hour would generate some $258,000 per year, or about a third of the revenue needed to fund the garage. Doing the same for the garage – in combination with pay parking on the street – would bring in about $293,000 per year, based on the study, which is being done by a team composed of private property owners and the city.

The study was commissioned by the City Council in March to determine whether a parking facility should be built downtown, near the current Farmers Market.

The main participants are owners of the WInslow Virginia Mason Clinic, and owners of the Sandstrom Properties, located to the south of the current city lot, though other adjoining property owners also are participating, the team said.

The latest plans show that a surplus of between 158 and 267 spaces would supply non-current city uses; the total number of spaces would be between 327 and 436 spaces, though how they would be divided among businesses has yet to be determined.

The total cost of the garage would range between $10 and $17 million, depending on configuration, size and the extent to which the city shares the expense with private property owners. Planners believe a joint public-private effort would reduce the cost of the structure by 15 percent.

Total costs per parking stall would be between $31,000 and $40,000.

Current estimates assume that financing will come from public debt, with an interest rate of 4.75 percent over 30 years.

Several issues remain unresolved regarding the configuration of, and access to, the proposed structure.

Though specific options for the surface level of the garage – which would be at-grade with the current civic plaza – are not part of the study, planners have stressed that the amount of parking it includes would have a big impact on the price of the structure.

The less parking on the surface, Depew said, the more the rest of the stalls would cost.

Two of the suggested alternatives extend east from the location of the city’s current gravel parking lot to Ericksen Avenue.

To avoid an awkward design – which also would be more expensive – the city would need to buy a small strip of land south the gravel lot. That property acquisition hasn’t yet been figured into estimates.

Access to the garage from Winslow Way could come from a new street, tentatively dubbed Harbor Way, that would require the destruction of a building on the Sandstrom property.

The team said some property owners along Madrone Lane – which is private – have considered closing it, rather than making it an access point to the garage.

Among city councilors, the idea of paying for parking received mixed reactions.

Jim Llwewllyn said he supports the concept of the garage, but isn’t sure the community is ready to ante up for it.

Councilor Nezam Tooloee said pay parking makes sense.

“It’s beyond me why we don’t charge for surface parking already,” he said.

Tooloee questioned whether financing for the project couldn’t come via a Local Improvement District, which would spread the costs among those who would directly benefit from it.

That idea was considered, but determining direct benefit can be tricky, Depew said.

In the short term, he said, allowing commuter parking at the structure could generate some revenue.

The idea of building a parking garage stems from the Winslow Tomorrow planning effort.

Community reaction to the plan thus far has varied. Some believe a garage is necessary to retain downtown anchor tenants, like Town & Country, which along with the clinic receives much of the city’s overflow.

Others say the parking problem is overblown, and that the cost of a new garage is more than the city can bear.

Clinic owner Tom Haggar said there’s still a great deal of work left, but he’s happy with the amount of interest from downtown property owners. He vowed to pay his share.

“We recognize that we need to contribute this,” he sad.

Opportunities for public comment would come before design work begins.

The team’s final recommendation will be presented later this fall.

Construction would begin early in 2009, about the same time as the scheduled Winslow Way “streetscape” project. The garage would open in 2010.

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