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A parking structure: Building for the future



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March 04, 2014 | 02:55 PM
Second in a series

See part one here.

The issue has been staring Lake Geneva in the face for decades.

Too much traffic. Not enough parking.

It’s time to take a big step toward solving the problem by building a parking structure.

Last week I outlined where the project stands. An update appears on 1A of this week’s Regional News.

This week I’ll make my pitch. It’s build now or bust.

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A high-level parking structure would cost about $8 million. There’s that much in the TIF fund but the fund will sunset in 2017.

If a parking structure isn’t built now, while the money is available, it’s highly unlikely that our citizens would ever support such an expenditure using traditional taxing methods.

True, not everyone is thrilled with the idea of a parking structure.

Some citizens would just as well do without the tourists who clog our streets every summer.

But, like it or not, Lake Geneva is a tourist community.

Shooing away tourists just isn’t going to happen. We can’t expect to keep such a pristine city a secret.

It’s the engine that drives the city’s economy. We should help it flourish and grow. To wish for less tourism makes no sense.

So, assuming it grows, we’ll need to solve the parking problem that plagues tourists and citizens alike.

There are some Band-Aid solutions like angle parking on Cook Street and expansion of the museum parking lot. A shuttle system may have value during peak weekends, but it isn’t financially viable to run all the time.

These ideas may still be worth doing, but they don’t solve the problem.

If we don’t do something more significant the problem will only worsen as tourism traffic increases.

The only real solution is building a parking structure.

The anti-TIF lobby has been justified in questioning some TIF expenditures like the skate park. The goal of TIF is to improve downtown, not as a piggy bank for pet projects.

But a parking structure fits TIF’s purpose perfectly.

It would stop the encroachment of visitor parking in our neighborhoods by giving them an option closer to Main Street.

A parking structure would stop the constant congestion caused by people circling Main Street hoping to find a parking stall opening up.

It would give employees who work downtown an option to park in the structure instead of taking up a stall better left for tourists. That in itself will relieve congestion.

Of course, it has to be done right. It shouldn’t be a block monolith. Parking structures can be classy. There might even be an opportunity to have shops on the bottom level.

Could a parking structure be underutilized during the winner? Sure. During the first few winters it might not be used very much.

But we’re not just building for the present.

The entire downtown business community would love to make Lake Geneva a year-round destination and the new chamber president has that as a top priority. The successful extension of Winterfest into a weeklong event proves that dream could become a reality.

Now our downtown businesses struggle through the colder months. Every spring there are a handful of empty storefronts to fill.

But that wouldn’t be the case if the city extended its visiting season. If the city were a draw all year long, being a merchant in downtown Lake Geneva would be more viable and we’d draw even higher quality shopping options.

Finally, building a parking structure would stop the constant hand-wringing by city councils. The parking problem has been discussed for decades. A study last summer was a waste of money because it simply stated the obvious: We need more parking.

We don’t need more information. We need action.

Someone has to make it happen. There’s enough energy and smarts on this council to finally see it through.

Granted, building a parking structure is a gamble. It could take awhile for citizens to see real value. But I think it’s a risk worth taking.

It’s part of growing up as a community.

Next week: What’s in it for the locals?

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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