by CHRIS ROGERS

With the new jail’s construction eating into available parking near Winona County’s downtown campus, the county will consider leasing a small parking lot from the city of Winona. The county might look to lease additional parking in the area in the near future, as well.

Construction staging for the new county jail is taking over the Winona County Law Enforcement Center (LEC) parking lot, displacing 86 parking spaces. Plus, Winona County Jail Administrator Steve Buswell said the county expects an additional 70-100 vehicles belonging to contractors’ crews to arrive when construction hits full swing. 

While parking consultants recently advised the county that nearby on-street parking and public lots would be sufficient, the county is interested in acquiring some additional parking, at least until construction wraps up in summer 2023. Buswell said the county also looked at shuttling in contractors from a distant parking lot, but, he said, “That starts to be sort of a logistical nightmare.”

“Even though the parking study indicated it was snug or tight, the idea was … we knew that with 86 parking spots, it was going to be a hardship — not on employees … but on the public,” Buswell said, explaining the rationale for the county’s proposed lease. “The public right now is finding it very difficult to find any kind of parking spot to come into the courthouse or the LEC.” He continued, “This is a big inconvenience for the public and that’s what we are, is a public service.”

The parking lot the county is looking to lease is at 165 West Second Street, the former ProBuild property. On Jan. 13, the city of Winona Port Authority Commission — which owns the lot — unanimously approved the agreement, and the County Board is expected to consider it on Jan. 25. 

Under the deal, the county would get around 30 parking spaces and access to the former ProBuild office building, while another 15 spaces would be reserved for Winona Police Department staff. The county would pay the Port Authority $1,500 a month in rent and be responsible for snow removal, maintenance, and other expenses. The lease extends through the end of 2023.

Buswell said the county’s 30-some spots would be reserved for anyone visiting county buildings.

Before inking the deal, the Port Authority Commission directed city staff to consider whether the city needed the space for its own staff or general public parking. Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin said of that review, “We looked at our past parking plan that we did a few years ago, and I consulted with Luke Sims, assistant city planner, and we felt that, with the jail, this would probably be the best use.” Asked if city staff had determined there was no additional public parking needed or that the county’s need was greater, McMartin said, “I think [the county’s] need, for the time being, is higher, but potentially down the road we could look at it at that time.”

While it’s leasing the 165 West Second Street lot to the county, the city is also considering constructing a parking ramp a few blocks away as part of proposed 60 Main project — a public-private partnership in which local developers are working with the Port Authority on a possible hotel-apartment complex.

If this lease goes through, Buswell said, the next question for the county may be, is this enough parking to alleviate the jail construction squeeze? Buswell said the county has also been in talks with Fastenal about potentially leasing part of its parking lot at the former YMCA site. “I think that’s just what we have to work out with the county as a whole, is this good enough for an 18 month period of time?” For his part, Buswell supported adding more parking beyond the ProBuild lot. “I think it would be very beneficial just to have that extra step of assurance for the public,” he said.

Chris@winonapost.com