Tuesday, December 14, 2010

EDC Votes To Recommend Melilli Parking Garage Planning

Where to put a garage was the center of a debate once again as the Economic Development Committee debated Monday about whether the city should build a parking garage on the site of the Melilli Parking lot, or on the site of the current arcade on Dingwall Drive.

At the end of a long discussion the committee voted to recommend that the Common Council resurrect a resolution, tabled at the last Council meeting, to fund a study and plans to locate the plaza on the Melilli site.

At stake are millions of dollars in federal funds, originally earmarked for the garage and for local transit plans, some of which, despite Congressional protection, have already evaporated.

"My biggest concern," said Committee chair Gerry Daley.  "Is how do we capture the earmarked money before the money is gone.  We've got to come up with a plan we can implement in a straightforward manner or we're going to lose that money."

Bill Warner, town planner, reflected on three alternatives, the two which were on the table, and a third which takes into account the downturn in the economy, and the unlikelihood that voters would approve a new lot in referendum.  That new plan would see the creation of no new parking garage.  Warner handed out notes from a morning brainstorming session in his department which argued that the need for parking was being met currently at the Melilli lot, especially since many city workers had been moved to other parking areas.  He also noted that a lot at the current arcade site made more sense because there is potential for future development at the "Cartunes lot," and Metro Square.

Parking director Tom Hartley argued strongly that the real demand for parking was at the Melilli location, and that a plan which called for a new, smaller garage on that site, coupled with five years of maintenance at the arcade was the best plan.

"One of the things most important to the Council was to have parking that was self-sustainable," Hartley said.

According to his plan, a three-level, 350-space lot would be built on the Melilli site, and not a 500-space lot on the arcade site.  His figures showed that the total cost of the project would be $11,504,115 with federal earmark dollars used for nearly $9 million of the cost.  The city would have to bond and contribute $2.5 million, but Hartley argued that the revenue from parking could be use to pay back the bond.

The alternative, according to Hartley, is a new arcade garage at nearly $16 million with the city having to bond $7 million.  He claims the larger garage on the arcade site would never be able to pay for itself. 

Hartley's view is that federal dollars would pay for most of the Mellili garage, leaving a smaller payback for the city.

"We'd have a garage that was funded at 80%, and the city would have to bond 20%," Hartley said.  "That's sustainable.  There's no way we could ever raise the revenue to make the arcade garage pay for itself."

Committee member David Bauer balked at the new statistics and the cost, indicating that just a few years ago the city was sure the answer was a new arcade garage.

"We managed to take that great public certainty and we've walked 180 degrees in the other direction," Bauer said.  "I'm all for taking advantage of the earmarked dollars, but I want to make a good decision.  I don't want to face the taxpayer and say we decided to spend $2 million of your money recklessly."

"The problem is the longer we put off the decision," Daley said.  "The greater jeopardy we're in for losing that money."

The committee, convinced by Hartley that a new Melilli garage was the answer, and that arcade parking could eventually be handled by a private developer, voted to send the proposal onto the Common Council for debate and vote at the January meeting.


Anonymous said...

I do not understand why the town just spent $1 million on renovation for the Melilli lot and now they want to put a garage on it?

Maybe move town hall to a new location, knock down the old town hall and put a new garage there? I know this will cost money but it solves more problems and is more sustainable.

Anonymous said...

I remain unconvinced. The arcade site seems far more logical, accessible and developable. As it is now, the arcade presents the aspect of an unfinished project.

Anonymous said...

No new taxes for this project! We just spent a lot for renovations.

How long would it take to pay for this proposed garage through parking fees alone? 20 years? Can the City really wait that long without needing to use the money collected at the gate of a garage?

And what of the inevitable cost overruns on such projects? Can we guarantee (through language and fines in the contracts) that it's really an $11.5M project, and not suddenly $15-$20 million?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this decision is being driven by a parking director who has no intention of being in Middletown long term and after working for Disney and the casino has no understanding of what the real world is like.

Building a three story parking garage is a monumental error. People do not want to park in garages and they will not use the garage any more than they use the Middle Oak garage, which is not at all.

Hartley plans on keeping the arcade garage going for five years, then having it replaced by a private developer. Why not just hope that Santa will bring us a new parking garage. Private development in that area has been talked about for the past eight years, and the same old rumors are floating around that there is someone seriously interested, but we can't talk about it yet. There may be someone interested in building on the car tunes lot, but why would you believe that a private developer would want to build a public parking garage?

In 2008 the city paid for a comprehensive parking study and a 300 page report was presented to the city. As pointed out in the article, Hartley recommends that we do the exact opposite of what the prior study recommended.

If we follow Hartley's advice five years from now Hartley will be long gone, the Mellilli garage will have been open for a year but will remain largely empty, the arcade will be closed because it is unsafe and beyond repair and downtown businesses will fail at a record rate. There will be one bright spot, however. Towing companies will make a fortune pulling court house patron's cars out of the Metro Square lot.

My Opinion said...

NO BONDIND! Raise revenues, save money into special account, pay for garage when you have saved up enough money! It's called a balanced budget, and does require raising Taxes or special Bonding.

Ridge Road Resident said...

I have lived in Middletown for five years and go downtown often to run errands or enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants and have never had a problem finding a parking spot at one of the nearby lots or on one of the side streets. Is a parking garage really necessary?

Janice said...

As a downtown retailer I dread having parking disrupted for the construction of a garage. They said it take 3 months to redo the Melilli surface lot and it wasn't done for 6 months. Totally bungled. I lost revenue due to all the construction on the roads and the lot. I don't trust the City or its contractors to do the job quickly and efficiently wherever it is built.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:09 . Your not to anonymous because tgere are only a few people who know the info you just stated and quite articulately I must say

Anonymous said...

I recall that a major reason why the redone lot at Melilli Plaza couldn't have shade trees in the interior and why we ran up the expense with cameras and more lighting was because people needed to feel secure before they would use a lot. And now we're talking about ripping the lights and cameras out and expecting people to park in a garage! Does that feel more secure to anyone? I never like to park in those multi-level garages. They are creepy. Muggers have plenty of places to hide and no pedestrians can see what's going on. This new garage idea sounds like another misguided idea, motivated mostly by the desire to use federal money we paid lobbyists to get us. Our city leaders (read:Chamber of Commerce) keep changing their reasons for these projects.

Paul Torop said...

Thank you, 11:09. Your information and opinions put this in perspective.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think Hartley blogged. Nice Tommy

Mr. Fixit said...

Plaza Middlesex, with an parking lot entrance on College St, USED TO HAVE private, Gated Parking. One had to gain a "coin" or chit from Middlesex Plaza merchants to gain exit from their Lot.

Many, many times, drivers without the "coin" or chit AND those who did not visit Plaza Middlesex Merchants JUST DROVE THRU THE GATE AND BROKE IT OFF. This happened so often that the gated parking was ABANDONED and the exit terminal removed. I'd bet the same reaction will be experienced at the new lot on the Washington St. We will eventually see the return of paid attendants in the not-to-distant future at this lot.

Hartford Hospital has a system whereby one pays in the lobby before exiting their multi-story parking lot. GUESS WHAT - they have a paid attendant at the exit to accomodate those who did not bother or remember to pay inside the lobby.

A new concret, multi-layered, parking lot will have the same success as the decrepit lot on Court St or Middle Oak's lot (on upper Court St.). They are just plain SCARY! Trust your elected officials to do the right thing (NOT!) as they just did when they authorized the purchase of ST Sebastian's School.

Anonymous said...

The Eye says, "...millions of dollars in federal funds, originally earmarked for the garage and for local transit plans...".

Is a parking garage really the top priority for Middletown's transit needs? How about any of the following:

* repair roads. So many are in quite poor condition.
* pedestrian bridge over Rt 9, to replace the tunnel. This would make an attractive way to get to the water from town, and vice versa.
* improve bus service, such as adding a link to New Haven's rail station. And we'll need transit to the proposed relocated Senior Center if that goes ahead.

Is it possible to shift any of these funds to more pressing needs? Just in terms of infrastructure, how about using this to pay for rehabilitating or demolishing blighted properties.

If we do go ahead with a garage, it seems that the Melilli location is a poor choice, since it has only just been renovated. The Arcade location is more in need of improvement.

Anonymous said...

No new parking garage! I feel much more safe and comfortable parking in the lot as it is now.

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

I second Anonymous 12/15/ 9:38. (Sounds like quoting scripture, doesn't it? Chapter and verse.)

Seriously, either proposal, a pedestrian bridge or another bus line would be so much better. Why do we need another garage?

Please listen, EDC members! It's okay to change your mind.

Anonymous said...

How about a transit plan that incorporated shuttle buses from downtown to the Stop and Shop on Main Street Ext. and to the Washington Street Plazas?