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Downtown parking plans move forward

November 8, 2018

Two proposals for increasing downtown parking options were given the nod by the Rochester City Council on Monday.

The council unanimously supported continued study of a new parking ramp and the creation of a policy that would allow the city to work with developers to address parking needs.

“The need is there,” Council Member Ed Hruska said, noting his research shows related costs for a new ramp could be covered within five to 10 years.

Chris Petree, Rochester’s Public Works director, said that while parking concerns are being voiced, the average occupancy rate for parking spaces falls within acceptable norms at 83 percent.

It was slightly higher in city-owned parking ramps during a “snapshot” taken at 11 a.m. Thursday, which showed overall usage at 87 percent, with the highest percentages in the Mayo Civic Center ramp and neighboring parking lots.

He said an event was being held at the Civic Center at the time of the study, which likely increased numbers.

While the Civic Center ramp was 88 percent full with 44 short-term spots available at the time, the Third Street ramp reported 80 percent occupancy with 132 short-term spaces available.

Petree said the occupancy rate was still within expectations for municipal parking, which he said traditionally aims for 85 percent to 90 percent usage.

“We’re right at about the correct amount of occupancy,” he said.

Still, he noted continued development calls for added parking space.

The city’s newest ramp is expected to open by the start of the year with approximately 525 public spaces.

In the following years, the city will lose some spaces with demolition of the Second Street ramp and development of the Bloom project along the Zumbro River. While the new project is expected to provide 214 public spaces, it will not make up for the 500 lost.

With that in mind, the council supported continued efforts to plan a new ramp, with an estimated 900 spaces. More study of the proposal could be considered by the council in the first months of 2019.

While the proposal received support, some council members voiced a desire to ensure the site choice doesn’t add to costs.

Council Member Michael Wojcik said the city should look for a space that benefits from other development and doesn’t attempt to squeeze into an existing site, which can make the overall project less efficient. He said he’d also like to see the city partner with other development to better intergrate the parking into downtown.

With that, the council also approved work on a proposed policy to allow developers to “buy in” to public ramps, which could offset some downtown parking requirements established last year.

While he supported the policy proposal, Wojcik said he’s also like to maintain the council’s option for waiving parking requirements, noting small developments in tight spaces, such as the 50-unit 324 Apartments reviewed Monday night, will have less options than larger developments, such as the Bloom project.

While the new proposed 900 spaces parking ramp would likely not be in place until 2023, Petree said a policy proposal could be ready within the next eight months.

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