Don’t let sticker shock derail parking discussion

When it comes to one long-envisioned amenity for downtown Petoskey, we don’t think it’s time yet to shift the discussion into park.

In recent months, a consulting firm drew up concepts for a parking structure at the corner of Michigan and Petoskey streets. That location, known as the Darling Lot, currently provides ground-level parking, and the notion of adding structure to it has periodically entered city and downtown leaders’ conversations over the past several decades.

Cost has posed one obstacle for building on the Darling site. A decade or so ago, downtown officials had some hope for covering the expense — through a tax-capture program involving the Petoskey Pointe hotel/condominium complex that was to be built about a block away. But developers’ financial difficulties stalled the Petoskey Pointe venture before its foundation could be installed in the city block-sized hole that had been dug for it, and before associated property-tax revenues could materialize and be channeled toward parking construction.

This winter’s report from the Walker Parking firm didn’t make the hurdle of cost appear any easier to clear for the Darling project, although it did point to a less-expensive possibility for parking expansion a couple of blocks to the northeast.

In recent years, downtown officials sought to find out whether a public-private partnership might be a workable approach for the Darling structure, with taxable private spaces built along with public parking as a means of generating project revenue. Walker’s concept for this — with four tiers of parking topped by a platform that could support residential spaces — was projected to carry a price tag of $9.2 million when allowing for contingencies, but the estimate didn’t include building the housing units themselves. This approach would provide a net gain of 148 parking spaces compared to what the Darling Lot currently offers.

Walker also offered a concept for a parking-only structure on the Darling site, which would provide a net gain of 153 spaces and involve an estimated cost around $6.5 million.

With no clear plans in sight for developing the former Petoskey Pointe site at U.S. 31 — and no other major projects on the horizon in downtown that could provide an infusion of tax revenue — the Darling project doesn’t look immediately attainable. With the fund balance in the downtown parking budget hovering in the $600,000 range in recent years — and the resistance some city officials and community members have expressed toward raising parking-system fees — building the needed revenue base would likely be a challenge. And while locals sometimes advocate for putting the former Petoskey Pointe site’s hole to use for public parking, that block’s private ownership status likely wouldn’t allow for such a venture without an outside developer’s participation.

Yet parking challenges persist downtown. Space availability is often tight during the busy summer season. Additional upper-floor residential spaces have long been touted as a way to add vitality to the business district, but parking limitations pose an issue for such projects. We’d encourage further conversations among local officials about parking expansion options and longer-term strategies for achieving them.

Along with the Darling structure concepts, the recent Walker report examined a couple of approaches for creating structured parking along Lake Street across from the Emmet County Building. Working with concepts which it developed on Emmet County’s behalf in the mid-1990s, the consulting firm provided updated cost projections for these, which would involve adding one elevated level of parking to existing lots and take advantage of that area’s sloped terrain for construction.

One concept for the structure, involving one-way traffic flow and angled spaces, would cost a projected $3.8 million. With 226 spaces, this would provide a net gain of 121 from the 105 ground-level spaces currently there. Another concept, with two-way traffic flow and perpendicular space design, would include 218 spaces (for a net gain of 113) and involve a projected cost of $3.96 million. Both reflect contingency allowances as well as up-front expenses such as engineering and soil analysis.

With their more modest cost estimates, the Lake/Division parking options would be sensible to include as part of future parking exploration. With Emmet County using some of the current spaces near that corner for its own vehicles — and county employees and office visitors contributing to parking demand at that end of downtown — we’d see it as worthwhile for county officials to participate in the conversation along with their city and downtown counterparts, and for funding partnership options to be considered.

— The Petoskey News-Review

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