New Downtown Parking Ramp
Posted: March 27, 2015
I was pleased to see that the Eau Claire City Council this week approved construction of a three-level downtown parking ramp. Although I lean towards favoring a four-level ramp, I think it was prudent for the city council to at least show a commitment to building the first three levels so local developers see that the city is committed to helping revitalize the central business district.
City Manager Russ Van Gompel erred on the side of caution by only asking the council to approve a three-level ramp at this time. Until the city staff is able to figure out a sensible way to shift money from one Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) District to another and make sure that the numbers add up, Van Gompel was being conservative in his cost and revenue estimates so the council had a realistic picture of the financial aspect of the project.
Now that the council has moved forward in approving the parking ramp, it is time for the development community to step up and consider a way to attract tenants to the 27,000-square-foot "liner" building that will encompass the new parking ramp and develop the current parking surface known as Block 7.
Early estimates for the North Barstow Redevelopment District showed that the additional development in the Phoenix Park area would generate about $10 million in new development. In actuality, the new tax increment generated in 2015 will provide in excess of $16 million. By making conservative estimates, city officials are hopeful that the new taxes generated by the "liner" building and Block 7 will exceed the estimated $11 million that is supposed to be created by those projects.
One of the more interesting developments at this week's city council meeting occurred when City Council Member Monica Lewis offered an amendment asking that the city have signed contracts with the major users of the new parking ramp (RCU and JAMF Software). At first glance, this seemed like a reasonable request, however after I thought about it, the rental rates generated by the parking ramp fees are really only a small portion of the overall revenue stream of the project. Her amendment was rejected by a vote of 6-4.
All in all, the TIF that surrounds the entire North Barstow area is expected to break even in about 29 years. The operating expenses of the parking ramp will come out of the TIF, so taxpayers are not on the hook. Unless, of course, those conservative projections don't come to fruition. But,if I were a betting man, I would guess that the development community will step up and exceed those expectations.