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City says ramp is coming down
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MONROE - The Monroe Common Council faced an unusual sight Tuesday night: Members were met with a crowd of attendees packed into the meeting room at the westside fire station.

The group left standing room only as residents filed in, some standing in the doorway. The focus of the 34 downtown business and building owners was the municipal parking ramp located off the Square and its possible future.

For just less than $496,000, the city gave Terra Engineering and Construction Corp. of Madison the job of tearing down the decades-old ramp constantly at the center of discussion by council members and citizens alike. Aldermen voted 7-2 in favor of the contract. Chris Beer, Brooke Bauman, Michael Boyce, Ron Marsh, Reid Stangel and Richard Thoman voted in favor of the ramp coming down while Tom Miller and Charles Koch voted against the measure.

Miller, who has criticized the project from the beginning of talks to tear down the ramp, again voiced his dismay at tearing down the ramp with nothing to replace it but a flat lot. The lot is meant to serve as a temporary fix until council members vote on whether to build a new ramp. Talks on that project are slated to take place in the third fiscal quarter of 2017. Miller said without adequate parking space, the downtown Square businesses will suffer.

"If we take the parking away, we're going to kill downtown," Miller said.

Director of Public Works Al Gerber said he was unsure of an exact start date to begin tearing down the parking ramp but thought Terra would want to begin as soon as possible to remain on schedule.

A housing project proposed by MSP Real Estate during the Nov. 1 meeting was given more time as the group traveled down from the company's Madison location once more on Tuesday. Mark Hammond, MSP director of development, said the company does see the parking ramp site as viable but was also interested in placing the 40-unit housing space in the city because it sees potential in the area. Hammond said the company would also be willing to develop the building at the location of the "underutilized" flat parking lot located along 16th Avenue and 7th Street.

Council members said they supported the project and city housing growth, but understood the location of the parking ramp was not ideal after hearing from constituents upset at the prospect. They championed the idea of developing the three-story apartment building at the alternate location, referring to the new housing as an attractive prospect for young professionals in need of affordable and quality choices within the area.

"I'm glad to see some growth," Newcomer said. "I have seen Colony (Brands) and (Monroe Clinic) suffer by not having a way to bring in new employees and been frustrated to see everyone commuting. I think this is a step in the right direction."

Chris Soukup, owner of Baumgartner's on the Square, thanked city representatives for keeping downtown parking and also killing the proposal of the housing units there because he did not like the plan. Soukup said the numbers on the MSP project are "far-fetched" and it was an "almost irresponsible use of taxpayer money" to allow the project to continue.

A number of those in attendance were owners of businesses or buildings in the downtown area. Some brought signs reading "Vote No" but never had the chance to wave them after city aldermen killed the proposal by not moving forward. Mayor Louis Armstrong said the topic of development on the alternate site would be brought back for discussion in the future.