Construction is set to begin on a downtown outdoor event center this month but some business owners are voicing concerns that a lack of parking during construction will hurt them financially.
The Downtown River Plaza will turn the space at Walnut Street between First and Second streets into an area where people can gather for events, entertainment and possibly a farmer’s market. The space currently is a parking lot used by patrons of business on that block.
At a meeting between Legacy Square organizers and Main Street business owners this past Thursday, it was revealed that no parking will be available in that area during construction and a construction fence will be placed in the alley making it accessible to pedestrian traffic only.
Some business owners took their concerns to the city commission Monday and spoke during the study session. Dana Coopey, owner of O-Town, told the commission there was not enough warning given to businesses.
“We were pretty much blindsided last week that we will have 106 parking places taken away, a 10-foot walkway for any type of security, ambulances, fire trucks, anything,” he said. “Our biggest concern is parking and how much we are going to lose. We would like to see, as business owners if we could plead the fact of getting couple phases or some sort of time frame, like maybe we block the alley off for 30 days while they work on that side of the development. We all want the development, it’s going to be super once it’s done but it’s an awful long time for us to lose the foot traffic and it will have a domino effect on other businesses... We’re not asking for the world, but can we have something that gives us a little bit of wiggle room.”
Coopey said that businesses in the area are excited about what the project will mean to them in the future, but wants the city to help them through the construction process.
Mayor Blake Jorgensen said the commission had only been made aware of the situation just prior to the meeting Monday and said the city was sympathetic with the issues brought forward. John Coen, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce CEO/President, told the commission a plan was being worked on.
“Today (Monday) we started working with the community planning to resolve some of the issues that were brought up,” he said. “What we are proposing to do is make first street one way west, and Walnut one way south, and put angle parking on north and south of first street and then angle parking on the east side of Walnut. So we give up approximately 14 parallel parking stalls that are currently on first street and gain 45 so we have a net of 34 approximate parking spots. We put in areas where people can pull their dumpster carts on both sides. We admit that there is going to be some pain with this and we will try to remediate it as quickly as we can. Certainly at any point in the construction, we can open the alley back up, we will do that. But we need to set permitters out and work back to try to improve things as we go forward.”
Lenni Giacin, Ottawa Main Street Association director, spoke for many business owners that had concerns about the process.
“I have spoken to several of the businesses that are going to be affected,” she said. “Parking is such an issue. We are thankful with everything moving so smoothly with the water main work, but now we are looking at this as an issue. For the business owners to get to their businesses, several are concerned. Blocking the alley was a panic thing for them. I appreciate you looking into it and maybe revising it.”
Loyd Builders was awarded the contract to build the structure. Josh Walker, Loyd Builders president, said the project will begin in February but parking may not be affected right away.
“The intention is to start mobilizing on Feb. 21, but that does not mean the fence is going up,” he said. “Our intention it to do some preliminary staking, locates, things of that nature. We are not actually scheduled to start demolition until March 6. It’s still a short time frame, I admit, but the fence is not going up on Feb. 21. As we complete the work and we’re able to bring that fence line in and start giving areas back we will do so. We wanted to make sure we maintained pedestrian access down the alleyway. Once we get on site and we get some hard lines in the field, we will verify whether we can make that alleyway wide enough for vehicle and pedestrian access but at this time I can’t commit to that. I am skeptical that will happen. For a substantial duration, it will be pedestrian traffic only down the alleyway.”
Walker addressed the issue of doing the project in phases. He explained that there were time and cost advantages to doing the entire project at once.
“There are several challenges with phasing,” he said. “The first one being that whenever you phase a project you extend it’s duration and therefore extend it’s cost. The second is the new parking lot is, for all intents and purposes, going in the same location as the old parking lot so the only way to provide any kind of parking or alleviate parking concerns is to split the new parking lot or create a temporary lot and all of those things add cost. What you don’t see is everything that is underground. Various services whether is be storm or electric, water, all of those things that cross through where you change that from a phasing standpoint and would create logistical challenges. Even if we to phase it in a way that say, this parking area will stay open, we will still have to shut it down periodically for those utilities. While this is a challenge, there is no doubt, at least its consistent and what we take on day one will only get better as progress makes it way through construction. We can lower our foot print.”
Wynndee Lee, Ottawa director of community development, said the goal was to complete the project in time for the annual car show and doing the project in phases could threaten that. She added that construction vehicles will park inside the construction area and not take up additional parking spaces. Ultimately, she said, customers may want to find other ways to visit the businesses.
“We’d like to encourage people to bicycle down to these businesses and bicycle parking could still occur in the alley, for what that’s worth,” she said.
When talking about the project last year, Coen said an overall loss of parking was an issue that was being addresses. He said with a new parking lot and angled parking around the block, parking spaces would actually increase when the project is done.
Business owners like Carol Zook, who owns Mug Shot coffee, said they may not be able to wait that long.
“I purposely, as a coffee shop owner, planted myself in that parking lot so I could have 10 or more cars that could pull up on their way to work, grab a cup of coffee, run back to their car and go to work,” she said. “Without those spaces, my business is sunk. The worse part is we have two weeks notice. So I literally am looking at moving my business to a temporary location because I can’t survive with no parking. I’m looking at losing my business. I need to make a decision and need to make it pronto.”
Jorgensen said the issue will be discussed again at next Monday’s study session and hoped that project officials will have a plan to present.