City to hire ramp-building experts for $34K supply, demand study
by CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona hopes a new parking study will put to rest a decades-long debate: does Winona need more downtown parking? Last week, the city of Winona’s Port Authority Commission recommended that the city pay a premium for parking study consultants who have the expertise to help the city design a downtown parking ramp in the future, if necessary.
Some business people reacted with alarm this spring when they heard that downtown Winona is projected to lose 83 public parking spaces to a hotel and apartment development in the works at the city-owned 60 Main Street site. In response, city leaders announced plans to complete an analysis of Winona’s future parking supply and demand. Is there merely a perception of inadequate parking downtown, as the city’s 2007 comprehensive plan suggests, or is there a real problem? If so, how could the city fix it? A proposed study by Walker Parking Consulting would seek to answer those questions and analyze options for shared parking, in which daytime employees and shoppers would trade spaces with nighttime residents.
City staff also sought out quotes for the study from ISG, a Twin Cities consulting firm that offered to do the study for $28,000 compared to Walker’s $34,000 quote. However, city staff strongly recommended that the Port Authority Commission hire Walker.
Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin pointed to Walker’s expertise in building parking ramps in river cities — it helped design one of Red Wing’s ramps. City manager Steve Sarvi told the Port Authority Commission, “They’re the A-team when it comes to these studies, and they can take it to the next level if we decide something needs to be built.”
This study would not produce designs for a parking ramp, but it would provide a recommendation on whether one is needed and how much it might cost. Walker could be hired on a second contract at a later date to design a parking ramp, city staff explained.
One thing is for sure: parking ramps are not cheap. Developers for 60 Main Street told the Port Authority that parking ramps generally cost $25,000 to $30,000 per parking space. Winona State University leaders have talked about building a parking ramp in the past, but rejected the idea because it is too expensive. Red Wing’s own ramps were a big expense for that city. The cost of a parking ramp would likely overtop the city of Winona’s recent investments in downtown: $2.4 million for Main Street and Levee Park and $2.3 million for re-roofing and upgrading the Masonic Temple.
If the Walker study recommends a parking ramp, it is not clear how the ramp’s construction would be funded. Some city officials have suggested charging downtown businesses, employees, or residents fees to help fund a ramp. Others have mentioned the possibility of asking for state bonding funds, like the $4.4 million in state debt Red Wing received for its downtown riverfront in last month’s bonding bill.
There is another potential outcome of the parking study: a conclusion that downtown Winona has plenty of parking and does not need more. City Council member George Borzyskowski sits on the Port Authority Commission, and when he supported hiring Walker, saying that the city needs a plan to replace parking lost at 60 Main Street and this study will provide it, Sarvi cautioned him. “They may even challenge the community to think beyond one-to-one parking [replacement],” Sarvi responded. “We may not even need all the parking spots we think we need. Ramps and even surface parking are very expensive, so we don’t want to overbuild and we certainly don’t want to under-build.”
The Port Authority is the city’s economic development branch, and the Port Authority Commission proposed paying for half of the parking study with that department’s funds. It asked the City Council to fund the other half with the city’s general fund. The City Council is expected to vote on that recommendation later this month.