2012-03-22 / Front Page

City talks parking woes

By Marc Filippino
Staff Writer

Biddeford business owners and residents alike regularly criticize an ongoing problem in their city: a lack of parking in the downtown area and mill district. Last week, a Portland-based architect spoke to Biddeford citizens about the results of a parking feasibility study that may solve the city’s parking issues.

During a public hearing held at Biddeford City Hall last Thursday, Winton Scott, founder of Winton Scott Architects, presented the results of the $98,000 study that was approved by the city council last year to explore designs and cost options for parking garages. Scott worked in conjunction with Rich & Associates, a Michigan-based parking consultant, and several other companies.

Based on Rich & Associates’ experience, city parking lots in small downtown areas are most successful when municipalities control 50 percent of the available parking supply. The city of Biddeford has control of 45 percent.

The study found that downtown Biddeford currently has 1,427 spaces and actually has a surplus of 200 parking spots. This statistic is based on existing land use and does not include the mill district. Based on a five-year projected analysis, Scott found the surplus will still exist in 2017 but it will have shrunk to 141 spaces.

Results of a survey indicate that only 50 percent of business owners have a policy discouraging employees from parking in desirable spaces for customers. Ninetythree percent of employees in downtown Biddeford who took the survey said they drive and park downtown.

Scott noted that there are better ways to use existing parking spots. These include changing the community’s “parking perceptions.” He suggested better parking enforcement to create faster and increased turnover along with increased signs and wayfinding to make the public aware of spots.

Scott also shared two designs for a cityowned parking garage that would stand on the corner of Jefferson and Washington streets. The lot could hold anywhere from 330 to 485 cars at one time but would mean Federal Street would have to close to operate.

Scott said the city’s focus should lie more on the mill district, which will require approximately 1,200 spaces in the next five years. A total build-out would require more than 2,500 spaces to accommodate the anticipated growth of the area. The mill district currently has 456 available spots.

An answer to the mill district’s parking shortage was presented in the form of a three-phase concept plan that would create more than 1,700 total parking spots. The garage would encompass an open campus with pedestrian walkways and grassy area. Scott said the park-like atmosphere has potential for outdoor entertainment options, including an ice-skating rink and an area for a small outdoor concert venue.

“The greenery and trees will be a great magnet to draw people to the city,” Scott said. “I think that people who live here would go down there for a little breather.”

Biddeford city officials said they hope the parking garage will spark economic growth similar to what Lewiston has seen. According to a letter to Biddeford public relations professional Mark Robinson and provided to the Courier, former City Administrator James Bennett explained the success Lewiston gained from building three parking garages in the course of a decade.

He said Lewiston gained nearly 2,500 new jobs and more than 2 million square feet of developed space. In the fiscal year 2010 budget, Lewiston gained an estimated $205,995 in revenue from parking fees and permits.

Bennett said each parking facility could cost the city between $4 million and $7 million to build using general obligation bonds of the city.

Biddeford City Manager John Bubier said early plans are geared toward a public/ private partnership, with the city providing a considerable portion of the funding. Bubier estimated the total to build two garages – one in the mill district and one downtown - would run between $16 to $20 million. He said the parking garage would complement the growth the mill district is expected to experience in coming years.

Dan Ducharme, owner of DAD’s Cigar Parlor on Alfred Street and Downtown Dollar on Main Street, said that the parking garage would be a heavy burden on taxpayers, but the dual locations would create a “win-win” for his business.

“Either location would be good for me, whether it’s in the mill district or on Washington Street,” Ducharme said. “At first I was a little emotional about the parking garage idea, but after seeing the plan I think the concept is awesome. We need to get people driving their cars downtown.”

Greg Bennett, owner of Lincoln Mill, said more parking in the mill district is necessary to draw higher tenancy rates. He said the time to start making definitive plans is now with the people already involved.

“It’s going to be a lot easier to sit down with the players who are here and work this out now rather than wait,” Bennett said.

Bennett and North Dam Mill owner Doug Sanford said they would support a parking facility and offered land donations to assist with the project.

Scott said there will be more conceptual drawings and will be getting feedback from business owners in the next month or so. Scott said his group is still in the process of working out figures for funding, accommodating, high population parking situations and coming up with a final analysis cost for construction.

Staff Writer Marc Filippino can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 213

FMI

Visit the Courier’s new website, www.mainelymediallc.com, to see renderings of the proposed parking garages.

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