Public discussion over an elevated parking structure for Lake Geneva has been a long, dragged out affair.
Past city councils have either failed to pull the trigger on elevated parking or just avoided the option all together.
It’s time to make a decision, according Mayor Jim Connors.
“People have kicked this can down the street for a long time and now it’s time to look at it,” Connors told the city council’s public works committee earlier this month.
The possibilities of building a public parking garage, and the difficulties in doing so were discussed at the Nov. 14 public works committee and the Nov. 20 parking commission meetings.
More discussion seems to be needed, but the window of opportunity to actually build a parking structure seems to finally be closing, Connors warned.
Connors attended both meetings and addressed the need for the city to finally fish or cut bait on a multileveled parking lot.
In its parking study preliminary report for Lake Geneva, consultants Rich & Associates included a proposal for building a parking structure. The report suggested the Cook Street lot, which is right behind the Geneva Theater, as a potential site.
The site has 88 public spaces and 27 privately-owned spaces.
The city council and administration are now looking at all possible ground level options to increase parking, including reconfiguring the Sage Street municipal lot to add 24 additional parking spaces, and to increased roadside parking Lake Geneva’s best chance of paying for a parking structure is through its Tax Increment Finance district fund.
But the TIF district is running out of time. By statute, it must close by 2017. And there is pressure inside and outside the city to close it down sooner, so other taxing districts can take advantage of the 90-plus million dollars of added valuation within the district.
Still, the city is parking hungry.
The Rich & Associates study found that during the peak summer tourist season, the city is short more than 300 parking spaces on any given day.
The advantages of a parking structure are obvious.
It takes parking off streets and puts it at new level.
And it can transform a lot with 100 parking stalls into a space that supports 300 parking stalls, or more.
The disadvantages are also obvious. Construction and maintenance costs can be high.
Elevated garages can look utilitarian and out of place.
Finally, where would the structure be built? Affordable, vacant land is hard to come by in Lake Geneva’s business district. That means the structure will most likely be built on land already used for parking. The net gain in parking wouldn’t be as great as if it were built on a vacant lot.
Connors said his problem with the parking structure isn’t the building itself, but its location.
At the parking commission, Connors presented some preliminary figures from Riley.
“My heartburn is you’re putting 200 new spaces on a lot that has 100 spaces,” he said at the parking commission. “Building 300 spaces on that site nets just 200 spaces,” he said of the Cook Street lot.
And, 115 parking spaces are taken out of use while the structure is being built, he added.
Jordan told the public works committee he’s already talked with Mike Keefe and Roger Wolff about working out an arrangement in which the city might build a facility on their property at the Cook Street lot.
Taking the property, even if the seller is willing, would require the city to go through the process of eminent domain, Jordan said.
“Would you be comfortable putting an $8 million building on property you didn’t own?” asked Hill.
“If it’s done properly, it can be done,” Jordan said.
Should the city council decide to move forward with a parking structure, just getting approval to build one won’t be easy.
City Administrator Dennis Jordan said from information he’s gathered, a new parking structure for Lake Geneva would cost between $6 million and $7 million.
The city has been looking to its Tax Increment Finance district to provide funding for a parking structure.
The TIF fund budget includes a line item for a parking structure, but the money in the line item, $2.4 million, according to Jordan, is inadequate.
If the city wants to finance a parking it will have to amend its TIF budget.
That will require the city taking its request before the Joint Review Board, which has representatives from the county, the school districts, the technical college and the city. Getting budget amendment approval won’t be easy, Connors said. However, this is probably the city’s last chance to ask, he added.
Even should the joint committee approve of this budget amendment for a parking structure, city ordinance says any capital project exceeding $1.1 million must be approved by referendum.
Alderwoman Sarah Hill, a member of both the parking commission and public works committee, said she doesn’t want to go before the council or the electors with some vague range of costs.
She said she wants to make sure there are solid cost figures, an actual location and building design for council members and voters to consider.
Alderman Alan Kupsik, a member of the public works committee, agreed with Hill’s assessment. “I wouldn’t be comfortable going to referendum without a price and a location,” Kupsik said during the public works meeting.
“It’s now or never,” Connors said at the public works committee. “I’m not afraid to be told no. But unless you ask, how would you know?”