Ramp It Up
city ponders new parking facility on post office site
Continued development in the Phoenix Park neighborhood will soon put a pinch on parking in the area, so the city of Eau Claire is developing plans to build a 520-space parking ramp near North Barstow Street. On April 7, the Eau Claire City Council discussed a preliminary report about the proposed ramp, which would help the city meet its obligation to provide parking to nearby businesses as well as offer space for visitors to the park, farmers market, and other downtown activities. A ramp has been part of the plan for the Phoenix Park area from the beginning, but the idea has been on the back burner until now.
The report, prepared by Walker Parking Consultants and SEH, estimates a four-level parking facility will cost $9.7 million to $10.3 million, depending on the design. The ramp will be build partly on a parking lot north of the RCU headquarters and partly on the current site of the post office, which is set to be razed after the federal government’s lease on the building expires this fall.
“We could be OK with surface parking, it meets our needs as a company. But it doesn’t meet our needs as a city. It’s a waste of space,” Zach Halmstad, co-founder of JAMF Software, told the City Council.
“We could be OK with surface parking, it meets our needs as a company. But it doesn’t meet our needs as a city. It’s a waste of space.” – Zach Halmstad, JAMF SoftwareUnder an agreement with the city, JAMF and RCU would lease space in the parking ramp. The city must provide 300 parking spaces to RCU and another 210 to JAMF, which is building a new office just north of the RCU building, said city engineer Dave Solberg. Those spaces are now provided via parking lots, including a temporary lot built last year at the southwest corner of Wisconsin and North Barstow streets (across from The Livery). But one parking lot has already been lost to the construction of the JAMF office, and the temporary lot eventually will be replaced by new construction. While the city is obligated to provide RCU and JAMF with parking, the two companies also are obligated to pay market rate to rent it, city officials said. Spots not used by those businesses – as well as spaces available on nights and weekends – would be open to other visitors.
Because the construction of the parking ramp hinges on the demolition of the post office, 126 N. Barstow St., Councilman Dave Duax and others wondered aloud about the fate of that downtown institution. City economic development director Mike Schatz assured the council that the U.S. Postal Service still plans to vacate the building – which it leases from the city’s Redevelopment Authority – at the end of September and has its eye on several smaller downtown locations. Schatz said he spoke to a U.S. Post Service official in early April and she was confident the relocation could occur in time. In addition to the parking ramp, the city’s preliminary plans call for commercial development on the post office site facing North Barstow Street.
After the presentation, several Eau Claire residents told the council they were concerned about the project. Maryjo Cohen – who most recently was a leader of Voters With Facts, an anti-Confluence Project group – criticized the cost of the structure, while another city resident, Cyndi Burton, said continued construction in the neighborhood would take away convenient parking for farmers market visitors.
However, RCU executive vice president Randy Beck noted that the North Barstow/Phoenix Park development was undertaken to encourage more businesses to come downtown. “Now it’s happening, and now we’re worried about it,” he said. “I don’t understand that.” Beck noted that the ramp wasn’t a handout to RCU or JAMF: “We have free parking right now,” he said. “We’re giving that up to pay full price for (spaces in) this parking ramp.”
The City Council made no decision about the proposed ramp. The project will be put out for bids, which are expected to go before the council for approval in December. Construction could begin in March 2015 and finish a year later.