Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 30, 2012

Traverse City getting a jump on parking

TRAVERSE CITY — City officials who've tired of waiting for developers to ignite a building boom on the west end of downtown plan to create a spark by using public money to buy land for a parking deck.

Private developers' efforts to construct a parking deck for the city as part of major redevelopment fell flat over the past six years. City leaders complain the uncertainty of not knowing where a deck would rise caused developers to shy away from the west end.

"I really think you need to be one step ahead of the game," Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes said. "Whether we ever have a parking deck or not, we have to start looking for a potential site."

Looking and purchasing likely won't go far enough to spur development, said Kevin Endres, a commercial real estate broker who has sold and leased property on downtown's west end.

"The parking deck has to come first," Endres said.

"Until parking is addressed, none of those vacant lots will be developed because if a business has 20 employees, where do they park?"

The area appears flush with surface parking, but most of the city's permit parking is already locked up or on leased land with no long-term guarantee, Endres said. Other available spaces are too far away.

"No one's walking four blocks to park; this isn't New York City," he said.

Estes will serve on a committee with other members of the Downtown Development Authority board to create criteria for potential sites. The committee would then invite property owners to make sales proposals.

The DDA has identified six potential sites: the west and east side of Pine Street at Front Street; a city-owned parking lot on State Street behind the post office; mostly vacant land on State Street east of Pine Street; a lot between the north bank of the Boardman River and Garland Street, and land behind the Bay Area Transfer Station on Hall Street.

The suggested sites all have downsides. The area behind the BATA station may be too far from Front Street, while a deck on Front Street would need ground floor retail space and boost costs, said Rob Bacigalupi, DDA deputy director.

City Commissioner Jim Carruthers opposes a riverfront parking deck.

"We need to take advantage of the view and access to the river, not make it a place to park cars," Carruthers said.

The city is open to other locations, Bacigalupi said.

"The goal is to have options, so hopefully we get multiple offers from property owners," Bacigalupi said.

Funding for the purchase would come from the city's tax increment financing district, known as TIF 97, which captures increases in property tax revenue from new construction and inflationary increases in property value downtown.

TIF generates enough money now to buy land, but not the minimum $7.5 million needed to build a 500-space parking structure. The city would need a major new building to generate enough revenue to pay off a deck, Bacigalupi said.

But Endres said a developer won't risk putting up a building on the city's promise of a new deck. Adding another building to the downtown in the current economy is risky enough.

Carruthers contends the DDA should instead turn its attention to other downtown matters.

"In this weird economy maybe now is not the time to be pushing the envelope so much," he said.

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