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Few show for parking ramp forum
MONROE - For lack of adequate attendance at a meeting of the Common Council to get public input on the future downtown parking ramp, the council is planning a second public forum meeting.

About 13 people showed up at city hall Monday, March 31 for the presentation of a ramp replacement option report, with some people complaining that they found out about the meeting only at the last minute.

The report, prepared by Arnold and O'Sheridan, an engineering consulting firm, presented four options and their costs to replace the current three-level ramp.

The options range from a surface-grade level lot that can accommodate 67 cars to a two-level ramp for 142 cars. Estimates of the costs, which included public restroom facilities and an elevator, range from $1 million to $3 million. Total project costs reflect demolition of the old structure in all cases.

The council took no action.

While some citizens questioned the wisdom of the city to include high maintenance restrooms and multi-glass windows in the new structure, others were more concerned that "key" people were not able to attend the meeting or that the city was pushing the project too quickly.

Alderman Tom Miller said the meeting was "a waste of time, because it wasn't well publicized."

Bob Duxstad, president of the downtown Business Improvement District board, explained that a replacement option not in the report is one being put forth by Craig Patchin at the Main Street Monroe's economic restructuring committee meetings. Patchin could not attend the council's meeting Monday, Duxstad added.

Patchin's idea, according to Duxstad, is to create a mixed-use structure that could include private commercial space and living space to offer some tax revenue to the city and the downtown tax increment district, as well as the public parking space.

Options in the new report "missed the point of where Main Street was going" with its advice to the city, Duxstad said.

According to Al Gerber, city engineering supervisor, and Phil Rath, city administrator, Patchin had recently met with both of them, and Duxstad said Patchin has spoken in private to some council members, to present his idea.

Gerber said he told Patchin that his idea could become an option in the request for a proposals package, when the city went out for bids on the project.

Director of Public Works Colin Simpson said that a mixed-use, public-private venture "would take time to vet out."

The idea of including a mixed-use structure in the city's options has not yet been raised or presented at a city committee meeting.

Duxstad and other citizens noted that the ramp is not beyond use yet, and the city should take its time in making a final decision.

However, Steve Roloff, director of structural engineering at Arnold and O'Sheridan, who presented the options report, said the ramp was "at its end." The parking structure, now 48 years old, had a life expectancy of about 40 years, he added.

"Your ramp is done," he said.

In a condition evaluation done in 2012, Arnold and O'Sheridan estimated the short-term cost for just structural repairs at $1.3 million. Mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems required an additional $100,000. And the entire structure would require about $145,000 more in repairs within five years.

But these major repairs are just adding to the maintenance costs, he said.

"Rust spreads quickly," like cancer, once it begins, he added.

Charles Koch, a past alderman for Ward 5, said the city has "spent similar amounts" on the downtown streetscape project and on reconstruction and beautification of 9th Street, "to get people downtown."

"I don't think we should eliminate parking spaces," he added, and suggested ongoing talks.

The current ramp provides spaces for about 214 cars.