Downtown Eau Claire site of proposed parking ramp - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Downtown Eau Claire parking ramp proposal raises questions of cost

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Plenty of parking, not enough, a lack signage: for years, the debate about downtown parking has been as fluid as a roundabout.

As Eau Claire's Own News 18 first reported Friday night, there are two options for a new downtown parking ramp.  Those plans are being spelled out at the city council's public hearing on Monday night.  

The site of the current post office may soon be home to cars, SUV's and minivans.

The Eau Claire City Council is hearing options for a proposed parking ramp.

"This is the first step of that process." Eau Claire City Manager Russ Van Gompel says.

Two different plans: one ramp long and skinny and one a little wider but both have 520 parking spots and four levels

"It's four levels, one down, one at surface and two above," Van Gompel says.

And both satisfy agreements made with downtown developments.

"This project is really necessary based on the commitments the city has made with RCU and JAMF and it's not connected to the Confluence Project. So, we need to move this process forward one way or another. It's a fairly expensive price tag," Van Gompel says.

"The ramp itself is about $8.1 million just for the construction costs of the ramp. When you factor in contingencies, engineering fees, roadway improvements that we need to make, the total price tag comes to about $10.5 million. Part of the money would come out of the redevelopment district and the other part of the cost of the structure is yet to be determined," City Engineer Dave Solberg says.

The current plan does not have RCU or JAMF paying for construction costs directly, however, the redevelopment district's financing includes taxes both businesses will pay.  For example, JAMF must pay taxes on its new office building, taxes that will help support the new parking structure.  The two businesses will also pay to use the ramp once it's built. 

Questions an price tag near 10 million dollars were raised by citizens when the ramp was presented to the Eau Claire City Council.

"Given the amount of effort for an overlay, I would think a decision on the confluence project would be key before any further work is done as that requires an overlay TIF as well," said Maryjo Cohen, CEO of Presto.

"There is already a considerable amount of parking in the area for businesses and i believe this kind of expenditure is a waste of money," said Janeway Riley of Eau Claire.

There's no timeline on when the council could vote on a parking ramp.

"It's a good situation to be in, where we have a lot of people coming into the area, we just need to provide parking for them," Van Gompel says.

The city says the parking ramp would be used by JAMF and RCU employees during the day, primarily.  Then, it would be open to the public on nights and weekends.  The plan is still for the post office to be relocated, but that has not been finalized yet.  It the ramp is approved, construction could begin next spring with the ramp opening in 2016.  The city council will not vote on the project this week, but will take public comment tonight. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

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