Clark County won’t spend $3M for downtown Springfield parking garage

Feb 26, 2018

Clark County told city and chamber officials it won’t support a long-planned $9.75 million, 485-space parking garage in downtown Springfield.

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However, county commissioners may consider backing a smaller, $5 million two-story, parking deck in the same location.

A meeting to discuss the parking garage was held with officials from Clark County, the city of Springfield, the Chamber of Greater Springfield and SpringForward, a non-profit organization focused on targeting investments in downtown, Lohnes said.

The city of Springfield has worked for years to build a parking garage at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Columbia Street. The original plan called for the city, county and state to each contribute $3 million; however, county commissioners never formally voted on the proposal, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said at the county’s weekly meeting Wednesday morning.

“If I had been in here and the commission had passed a resolution, I’d stick by it,” Lohnes said, “but that never happened. We never discussed it at this table.”

Lohnes supports the idea of a parking garage to increase economic development, he said.

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“It’s one of those deals like the chicken and the egg; if you build it, they will come,” Lohnes said.

However, he doesn’t believe the county should invest $3 million, especially given its current financial situation, Lohnes said. The county is set to lose about $3 million annually due to federal changes in the way Medicaid sales tax is collected, he said. The commission also had two new members elected last year, Lowell McGlothin and Melanie Flax Wilt, who have yet to discuss the project in an open session, he said.

“I personally didn’t think it was something the county budget should do,” Lohnes said. “I didn’t commit in the past or now.”

The city has received about $1.75 million in state funding for the project, including $1.5 million as part of the state’s capital budget in 2016. It has spent about $600,000 on the project, including land acquisition. The city may also seek private money for the project, leaders said last year.

The city of Springfield is still participating in the project, but what that means is not clear, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.

“We’ll attempt to do something on the site that’s been identified in the past,” he said.

The city was disappointed the county withdrew its support, but understands the difficulty that comes with making budgetary decisions as an elected official, he said.

“We would hope they would participate to some degree,” Copeland said.

Chamber CEO Mike McDorman could not be reached for comment.

The initial plan for the parking garage called for a 485-space, four-story garage with 15,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. The garage would be paid parking and meters could be placed on the street out of fairness. Last year, city leaders began examining several different options, including building two smaller garages in different areas downtown.

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The parking lot is currently being used as surface parking and has about 110 spaces. It’s near several prominent downtown buildings, including Hull Plaza, the Bushnell Building, the Public Safety Building and both courthouses.

Last year, SpringForward hired consultants to perform two downtown parking studies.

A study completed in June by Walker Parking Consultants showed there were about 1,900 parking spaces, including 695 publicly-available spaces, within a 15-block area of downtown. The area may need about 1,100 additional spaces if future plans for downtown are achieved, the report said.

Walker recommended building two parking garages downtown — a three-bay, two-level structure with 267 spaces at Columbia Street and Fountain Avenue and a similar structure at Jefferson Street and Fountain Avenue with 349 total spaces. Combined, the sites would create a net total of 358 spaces — the project will eliminate 258 existing surface parking spaces — at a total cost of about $9.45 million.

A parking garage in the local market is not self-sustaining and will require upfront and continued financial support until the paid parking market develops, the study said. Based on current development projections, a garage would lose money for the first five years and likely wouldn’t make a profit until 2029, the report said. It’s unclear who would subsidize the garage during that time, Lohnes said.

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More than $400 million has been pumped into downtown Springfield over the past 10 years, including the construction of two hospitals, a massive renovation of the historic Bushnell Building, the NTPRD Chiller ice arena and a brewery, Mother Stewart’s Brewing Co.

Local officials estimate the parking garage will support the creation of up to 700 jobs that could generate $27.5 million in annual payroll and will enhance the downtown area.

Flax Wilt supports investing in a downtown garage as part of a larger project, she said, to help improve infrastructure and promote economic development, she said. Flax Wilt also wants to see projected sales tax data that may be received from a parking garage project and how it may offset the county’s costs, she said.

“If we are going to have a new economy, then we need to have a new infrastructure that’s going to support that,” Flax Wilt said. “I think we need to invest in the future and take some risks.”

McGlothin would not be in favor of a $3 million investment, but likes the idea of a scaled-down project, he said.

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“I don’t know what the need is,” he said. “What is the actual need for 400 parking spots?”

Some employers won’t consider a site if parking is not available, Flax Wilt said.

“It can be a deal breaker,” she said.