The city of Winona is considering a tax break and a parking ramp for the 60 Main project, the hotel-apartment complex being planned at the city-owned parking lot north of the Winona 7 cinema. The city’s 2022 budget includes $100,000 earmarked for the design of a parking ramp, to be funded with tax increment financing (TIF), a type of tax break.

The city has been promoting the development of 60 Main since 2017, when city leaders looked to pair a newly remodeled Levee Park with a major private development to spur downtown growth. After a previous prospective developer fell through, the city of Winona Port Authority Commission signed a deal in January 2021 with C.D. Smith, Rivers Hospitality, and Latsch Development, entering exclusive negotiations with the trio over a possible development at the site. C.D. Smith is the Wisconsin-based construction firm behind Fastenal’s new office building, Mike Rivers’ Rivers Hospitality owns numerous Winona hotels, and Latsch Development recently remodeled the Latsch Building and 102 Walnut Street.

“The idea would be, [the developers] are looking at a development at 60 Main that would be composed of housing and hotel, and those large developments would need parking, and it’s occurring on an existing public parking lot. So we’re anticipating there may be some need for public parking within that development,” Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin said in a December interview. She continued, “… There are costs for creating parking and the idea would be, it’s for that public parking.” She added that the city might contribute more than just $100,000 to the project, but that those details had not been worked out.

McMartin said discussions about TIF and a parking ramp are just conceptual at this point. “It’s put in the [capital improvement plan] and budget as a placeholder that that could be a consideration,” she explained. 

McMartin said of the project in general, “We’ve been meeting with the partners at a staff level, just talking about the concepts and what some of the needs might be. But we don’t have any development plans. There’s been a discussion about the area, proposed housing, a proposed hotel, that kind of thing.” She clarified the developers have drafted conceptual plans and shared them with city staff, but the designs are not final. She added, “This is a great opportunity for a big development in our downtown to continue.”

A ramp could help serve the parking needs of the proposed hotel and apartments, and if public parking is included, too, it could replace some of the public parking that would be lost when the existing parking lot is developed. That could help alleviate concerns some Winonans have expressed about the project’s effect on parking in the downtown area, especially for the neighboring movie theater. On the flip side, a parking study commissioned by Winona County this winter and a similar one done for the city in 2018 both concluded that there is sufficient existing parking in downtown Winona and demand doesn’t justify the multi-million-dollar cost of a parking ramp. The recent county study pegged the cost of a 300-stall ramp at $8 million, possibly more given Winona’s unique soil conditions.

Meanwhile, the Port Authority has been in negotiations with Union Pacific Railroad in an attempt to acquire part of a neighboring vacant rail yard in order to expand the 60 Main site. The Port is also in negotiations with HBC to acquire HBC property on the west side of Main Street, which McMartin said could be used for surface parking. Neither deal has gone through yet.

If TIF was used to fund the design of a parking ramp at 60 Main, it would not cost the city anything immediately, though the city would give up future tax revenue for several years. In a TIF district, when a new building is erected, instead of collecting taxes on the increased property value of the new construction, the additional taxes are put toward paying back construction loans or other costs of the development. TIF could only be used to fund the design of a parking ramp if something is, in fact, built at 60 Main at some point — some new development to create additional taxes. TIF could be used to retroactively reimburse such costs.

Mike Rivers, along with Peter Shortridge of Latsch Development, declined to comment for this story, referring questions to C.D. Smith Senior Vice President Michael Krolczyk. “I don’t have much to tell you about right now because we’re just working on stuff with the city,” Krolczyk said. Asked about whether he was interested in a parking structure as part of the project, he responded, “We haven’t really gotten into specifics about that yet.” Asked if a development deal between the three companies and the city was forthcoming, he said, “I don’t have much more information to provide; I hope to soon.”

The three companies’ current agreement with the city — giving them the exclusive right to negotiate with the city for the 60 Main site — was extended last summer and will expire in June 2022.