We had a short in-house discussion last week on whether our lead headline was editorializing:
“No surprise, city needs more parking,” it said.
We agreed it was like saying, “The sun is a yellow orb.”
To say Lake Geneva needs more parking is a self-evident truth — or so we decided.
I have to admit I had a knee-jerk response when I read that those were the findings of yet another study on the city’s parking:
“Did we need to spend $26,325 to find that out?”
Now let me back off a second. I’m not saying the money was ill spent — not yet at least.
There was more nuance in the study than that headline implies. The city has already discovered some inaccuracies or misinterpretations that will require further consultation. And it is just a preliminary study, so out of fairness, we ought to wait for the next chapter before passing judgment.
But I’m going to let fairness go by the wayside for a moment and riff on some initial thoughts:
I think the city council is well-intentioned in its desire to solve this perennial problem and felt that a fresh study beat a shoot-from-the-hip approach. Right now, it seems like a close call.
The most interesting aspect of the report was the suggestion that we need a parking structure.
That does seem like an easy answer from an outsider’s approach, but I’ve had my doubts.
First, it’s expected that such a structure would cost about $6 million. That’s a lot of money especially because, as it stands now, it would probably be nearly empty during the six months or so when Lake Geneva’s resort traffic disappears.
But maybe we have to look at the bigger picture. If that solves the downtown parking issue once and for all, maybe it’s worth it.
The report indicated that the lack of parking is keeping locals away — and that’s part of a larger picture.
If we look at the city’s downtown economy, getting locals back there is key.
So is making Lake Geneva a vacation destination for 12 months a year, instead of five or six.
If the parking structure got locals downtown and the city became more of a year-round destination, it would probably be cost-effective.
But, of course, it’s a chicken and egg proposition.
If the city built it would they — the locals — come downtown?
Should it be built betting the city will become a 12-month vacation paradise?
The goal of making the city attractive to visitors all year ‘round, will be one of the challenges of the new chamber head, who is expected to be hired in a couple of months. I do believe the city has winter charms that can be maximized beyond Winterfest and ice fishing. A Winterfest expansion is already in the works.
The study suggested a good location for a parking structure would be adding to the Cook Street surface lot behind the old theater. That area is already partly owned by the city. And it’s close to downtown, unlike some of the other locations mentioned in the past.
There is enough money in the TIF funds for a parking structure. Of course spending it, might get the anti-TIF people going. But unlike the skate park, for instance, a parking structure would clearly meet the TIF goal of improving downtown.
Of course, the word “parking structure” creates visions of tall, gray cement industrial-looking monoliths.
That’s not the image Lake Geneva sells. But they don’t have to be that way. They can be attractive.
The first floor could also feature stores that would incorporate the retail segment with the structure.
Upon hearing of the location, I flashed back to a conversation I had with former mayor Spyro “Speedo” Condos a few months ago.
Apparently, during his administration, that location was suggested for a parking structure and there were plans to buy adjoining properties to make it happen.
He could be excused for saying “I told you so.” So, I’ll say it before he does.
While the parking study still has a little time to be corrected and marinate, it’s healthy to keep on discussing it.
Pretty soon the summer traffic will be gone and we might all be lulled to sleep.
Let’s plumb everything we can from the study and then make some lasting decisions.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News.