Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 21, 2012

Editorial: TC must invest in parking


---- — For as long as there have been cars in Traverse City, it seems, there has been talk of how to create parking on the west end of downtown.

Six years ago city voters trashed a proposal to build a public parking deck that was to become the taxpayer-funded foundation for a large office/residential development by Federated Properties.

Developer Gerald Snowden has talked about a parking deck at property he owns at 305 W. Front Street, but a proposed tenant's interest in the project waned as the economy soured.

Now, the Downtown Development Authority is looking at real estate Traverse City could buy for use as a public parking lot in an effort to help promote development in the area.

The DDA hopes to acquire property on West Front Street, Pine Street or State Street. DDA Executive Director Bryan Crough described the area being considered as "the whole curve," from the Record-Eagle office at 120 W. Front to the Boardman River, south on Street and east along State Street to Union Street. Pine and State were recently rebuilt and repaved to Union.

The city initially would use any land it acquires as surface public parking, Crough said, but more surface-level parking could lead to a parking deck or similar structure.

"If there is an opportunity to swap for land or build on the land we might acquire, we would have our foot in the door," Crough said.

That cannot mean opening the door to another Federated-style boondoggle that uses taxpayers to underwrite private development.

The lack of reliable, long-term parking options has been a block to development in the area for years, but any deal must work for both the city and a developer. Clearly, if the city wants to boost its property tax base on the west side, it must be prepared to make a substantial investment in parking, not in someone else's project.

The city had a built-in clientele for its first deck at State and Park streets — downtown shops and their employees — and expansion at Hagerty Insurance will essentially underwrite the Old Town deck off Eighth Street.

There are no such guarantees on the west side, which makes a deck or new surface lots there less of a sure thing. But not investing can't be an option. The city needs new west-side development, and west-side development needs parking; further delays don't make sense.

"There is perhaps more lost opportunity than anything in terms of redevelopment," City Manager Ben Bifoss said.

The city has seen plenty of opportunities on the west side come and go — witness the hole in the ground at Pine and Front — and can't afford to sit it out much longer.