Proposed Downtown Parking Ramp
Posted: June 13, 2014
I was pleased to see that the Eau Claire City Council approved the $404,200 contract with a St. Paul,MN-based engineering firm to begin design work on the proposed downtown parking ramp. It would have been a shame to see more time wasted while council members asked for more public input on the design phase of the project, since it was already put into the 2014 city expense budget.
However, I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the council will conduct a public hearing on the parking ramp itself later this summer. I am not sure what will be accomplished by having the same individuals appear before the council to question the need for a 520-stall parking ramp - especially since the two major users of the complex will be paying the market rate to allow their employees to utilize the facility.
RCU and JAMF Software have agreed to occupy a minimum of 330 stalls by 2018 and, even though the estimate for the cost of the parking ramp has increased, any further delays would undermine the city and private sector's ability to renovate the rest of the North Barstow Redevelopment District.
What seems to get lost in this discussion is that all of downtown Eau Claire's revitalization is a public/private partnership. The collaboration between the developers and the city has been moving in a positive direction ever since RCU built its headquarters near Phoenix Park. If the city continues to delay any opportunities to assist the private development community, the entire process takes a step backward.
Regardless of what happens with the Confluence Project, there is still a need for a downtown parking ramp. Surface parking, as it exists now, would be replaced by private development. Granted, those projects would be part of the current Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) District, which means the property taxes derived from those projects will not go onto the public tax rolls for some time. But TIFs are utilized successfully by cities all across the state and country to assist private development.
The Eau Claire City Council should be commended for its action taken this week to approve the design contract of the downtown parking ramp. I just hope a public hearing this August doesn't delay the project any longer.
If the city council wants to continue acting like a major player in downtown redevelopment, then it needs to replace surface parking with more commercial and residential development and build a downtown parking ramp.