by CHRIS ROGERS
Last week, the city’s Port Authority Commission agreed to a plan to limit public use of 24 parking spaces in two different downtown parking lots in order to meet its contractual obligations with Winona County.
The city officials approved a plan to take 11 12-hour public parking spaces in municipal lot #12 (just south of Bluff Country Co-op) and 13 12-hour spaces in municipal lot #14 (at Fifth and Center streets) and dedicate them to the use of county employees during business hours from Monday through Friday.
City and county leaders are still negotiating the details of the downtown parking deal, and during a meeting last week, officials from both governments looked out for their organizations’ own interests and treated downtown parking like a scarce commodity.
Bob Kierlin’s proposed Main Square Community development on the city-owned Hardee’s block precipitated the parking negotiations. The city currently provides the county with parking spaces on that block, and now that the city intends to the sell the block to Kierlin’s company for redevelopment, the city must relocate the county’s parking spots.
The city’s obligation to provide the county with parking dates back to 2007. At that time, Winona County leaders agreed to a deal to help the city secure land for a new addition to the local history center. The county agreed to sell land it owned for the history center expansion in exchange for getting parking spaces for county employees from the city of Winona. Since 2007, the city has been contractually required to provide the county with 24 parking spaces within the Hardee’s block. Now that the entire block is slated for construction later this year, the contract requires the city to replace those 24 spaces somewhere within a two-block radius of the Winona County Government Center. The city’s contractual obligation to provide parking lasts until 2037.
City and county staff members negotiated some in private before bringing a proposed amendment to the 2007 contract to the city’s Port Authority Commission last week. The result was some new terms that would benefit the city.
First, the parking spaces would only be reserved for county employees during business hours and could be used by the public during off-hours. “We’re really trying to maximize every stall we can find,” Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi explained. Second, if, in the future, the county no longer needs the stalls, the proposed contract amendment includes language that would give the parking spaces back to the city. Third, if the county sells or leases the Government Center building — a possibility county leaders are studying — the city could stop providing parking.
In an interview, Winona County Administrator Ken Fritz described these terms as things Winona County had put on the table. In exchange, he wanted the Port Authority Commission to reserve the 11 spots in municipal lot #12 for county employees until 2037, even if the Government Center is sold or leased. Parking availability is one of the biggest hurdles to taking county departments currently housed at the Government Center and relocating them to the Winona County Office Building on Third Street, Fritz explained. “Right now, everything is packed over there,” he said of parking at the County Office Building. “All the on-street parking is being utilized. The off-street parking is being utilized.” If the city would save those 11 spots for the county, it would help, Fritz stated.
Sarvi told the Port Authority Commission that city staff were conflicted about Fritz’s requested. Sarvi personally thought it was reasonable; others did not.
Port Authority Commission Chair Mike Cichanowski stressed to Fritz what a great project the Main Square Community will be. The project would increase the tax base for both the city and county government. “The project is going to make it better for everybody; there’s no question about that,” Cichanowski stated.
Fritz said the county was very supportive of the project, but that the county still needed more parking near the County Office Building.
Cichanowski looked at a map of the 33 total public parking stalls in lot #12 and the 11 parking spots the city plans to dedicate to the county. “That kind of eats up that lot for that part of town,” he said. “I mean everybody else is fighting for parking downtown,” Cichanowski added.
Recently appointed Port Authority Commission member and Midtown Foods owner Ernie Gorman said that the deal presented by city staff — without Fritz’s request — was the best option for the city. The commission voted unanimously with Gorman.
The deal still needs to go before the Winona County Board for approval, and Sarvi indicated that the County Board might not accept it or might make a counteroffer. “We’d have to see what their response is. If it’s radically different than what we offer then we might have to [try] and come up with something,” he told the Port Authority Commission.
There is a third option: the city and the county may decide not to modify the 2007 contract at all — or they may be unable to reach an agreement — and the two parties may just keep the existing agreement the way it is. In that case, the city could still provide the county with 24 parking spaces within two blocks of the Government Center and meet its obligations. However, the existing agreement does not spell out what happens if the Government Center is sold.
City agrees to pay $150,000 for Hardee’s block cleanup
Also last week, the Port Authority Commission approved a grant application for funding to clean up old pollutants buried underground at the site of the proposed Main Square Development, a must before new construction could begin. Engineers estimated that the total environmental cleanup work on the Hardee’s block will cost $600,000. The city applied for a grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development that would cover most of that cost, if awarded. The city would be responsible for a $150,000 match. Environmental cleanup work is the one development cost Kierlin asked the city to pay.