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Aurora

One more column on parking structure



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March 25, 2014 | 03:22 PM
I know you’ve read enough about parking.

In fact, when reporter Chris Schultz copy edited my last column on parking he scribbled: “No mas”…aka No more!

As it turned out, that’s not what he meant. But that’s what I thought he meant because I know people are tired of the subject.

That said, I couldn’t resist one more commentary based on questions and comments I’ve heard recently. Here’s a smattering:

“Why can’t the nasty old hotel next to the newspaper be torn down and parking be put there?” asked a letter writer.

That “nasty old hotel” was formerly the Traver Hotel. It was once thought of as a historic site, but appears to have fallen too far into disrepair to be worth salvaging — at least in my eyes. But, according to the city, it’s structurally sound. And condemnation is a tricky process akin to taking a baby away from parents.

More specifically to that site, for it to become a viable location for a parking structure the city would also have to acquire and tear down four other buildings, including the Christian Science Reading Room, which isn’t apparently for sale.

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That’s the problem with other apparent sites, too — a lot of money would go into purchasing said properties and the cost-benefit doesn’t seem to be there.

“Everything they build looks like it belongs in Florida. Nothing they have been building fits in with the rest of the town. Look at the Towers (the grain elevator), they thought it was better to tear down the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel instead of fixing it up and look what they got,” that letter writer said.

I’d be against a parking structure if it turns out to be a concrete monolith. I agree the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel would be far better for the city than a “grain elevator.”

Obviously, historic preservation wasn’t popular when the FLW hotel came tumbling down.

Other than that, however, I think the downtown has a nice selection of historic facades that a parking structure could mimic. When Mayor Jim Connors spoke to the retail committee of the chamber recently, he also said he favored a parking structure that fit into the character of Lake Geneva. I think Lake Geneva is an upscale community and deserves an upscale parking structure (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron).

There’s about $8 million available in TIF. A parking structure is expected to last 40 years — let’s not cheap out. Those first two questions came from an anonymous letter from someone who likened our downtown during the summer to something unprintable.

I don’t run anonymous letters, but I thought repeating the concerns were warranted since many people obviously feel the same way.

The writer said we used to have a nice downtown before the visitors filled it up. Why do people think it’s possible to go back in time or even keep the status quo?

I can understand how people could be nostalgic about days gone by — but it’s just not possible to turn back the clock.

Lake Geneva is a tourist community. Period. It fills up in summertime. Would people prefer it not fill up? If so, what do they think we should do about it? Put up signs saying “No entry, we don’t like visitors.”?

It can’t even stay the same. As the Buddhists say, “The only thing certain is change.”

It can only go one of two ways — better or worse.

What does worse look like?

If the city disregards the needs of downtown then expect to see rows of empty storefronts like you see in downtown Delavan.

Unfortunately, better includes more and more traffic. Why not leverage that traffic, make downtown business flourish and, with the help of a parking structure, make traffic more manageable?

Would the status quo kill us? Maybe not. But if people like the status quo then they should look forward to years and years of traffic jams and stores coming and going. We can do better.

Another skeptic asked why do we want to build a structure for 240-some cars when our recent parking study says we have a 350-car deficit during peak periods?

Good point. But isn’t solving 69 percent of the problem, better than not dealing with it at all?

Plus that 350 car deficit is only at peak times. That’s what the shuttle system is for. The downtown shuttle is helpful for overflow, but not a solution.

Besides, a parking structure opens up opportunities for more growth. If there isn’t a solution found and our fair city continues to be a popular destination, the congestion will just get worse.

The latest parking survey indicated that a parking structure would be supported by a 60 to 40 margin. I’m not so sure.

Over the years, the downtown merchants have lost the locals. There’s a lot of anger coming from long-time Lake Geneva citizens and that anger might just sink a parking referendum.

In recent years, merchants have realized the need to try and win locals back. I hear it more and more.

Downtown activist Philip Sassano has mentioned it often over the years. The mindset of the new chamber president, Darien Schaefer is that the city needs the locals.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons that the extended Winterfest recently included events that helped local organizations.

There’s animosity pure and simple and it’s worth it to both locals and the downtown to bridge that gap.

A parking structure will help, not hinder.

It would lessen infringement of cars into residential area. The city has also considered having a pricing for the parking structure that would be less than onstreet parking — that would make it more economical for downtown workers or for residents who want to shop locally.

I suppose it can be charged that I’m supporting a parking structure because the downtown business community is the newspaper’s bread and butter.

They’d be right about the second part — a good portion of our revenue comes from downtown merchants.

But I also love Lake Geneva. One of the reasons I moved here is that I like the hustle and bustle. I like the busyness, but I too get frustrated when I try to find a place to park.

We can have busy sidewalks without impassable streets.

Finally, people keep on bringing up the charge that the locals will be spending between $6 and $8 million. There will be nothing new out of pocket because it’s all currently in the TIF fund.

Granted, there are five people in the world who fully understand TIF and even they admit that it is a tax.

But it’s money already in the bank. What better use could be made for it? Returning it to the taxing bodies, which is what would happen if it isn’t spent, splits the $8 million multiple ways. As such it can’t possibly have the impact that $8 million has in one place.

Let’s be bold. People have been talking about the parking problem for half a century. If we don’t do it now, the TIF sunsets in 2017 and there’ll never be another chance.

If a referendum supporting it fails with money already in the bank, there’s no chance it will pass if a nest egg has to be rebuilt directly through taxes.

So, is this the end of my preaching about parking? Maybe I can set it aside for a while, but I won’t say “no mas.” It’s too important and too timely to keep quiet about.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News

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