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Keep parking ramp: Residents tell BPW to let downtown structure stand
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MONROE - About 30 downtown residents and business owners attended the Board of Public Works meeting Monday, nearly all advocating the city keep its three-level parking ramp that sits just one block off the Square.

The condition of the current parking structure was not in question: The city had authorized a comprehensive evaluation by a Madison engineering consulting firm, Arnold & O'Sheridan, Inc. (A&O), to establish the present condition of the structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection system of the concrete structure. In its report, released earlier this month, A&O estimated the parking ramp needs $1.4 million in repairs.

"Obviously, we've got an expensive problem on our hands," said Reid Stangel, board president.

Stangel said the main question is whether the city should repair the structure, and asked Al Gerber, city engineering supervisor, if the ramp could collapse because of disrepair.

"Yes, it could," Gerber replied.

But Bob Duxstad, the downtown Business Improvement District (BID) board president, asked what the life expectancy of the ramp was, if repairs were done.

"Indefinitely," Gerber said.

As it stands now, Gerber said, some parking stalls will be blocked off because of falling concrete, and will remain blocked through Cheese Days. The full deterioration of the building is not known, said Gerber, because A&O, wishing not to intrude into the building's structural integrity, did not take core samples of the building.

The city could consider replacing the structure with another ramp of equal size, a project estimated at about $4 million, or a parking lot for about $600,000.

The Monroe Chamber of Commerce membership, representing 325 firms and 6,000 employees, has asked Pam Christopher, executive director, to "fight for the parking ramp," according to Christopher.

"No one wanted to see that parking ramp come down, because we needed the spaces" two years ago when a developer wanted to build a senior apartment complex on the spot, Christopher said. If the ramp needs to be replaced, she added, the city needs to "rebuild to the same number of parking spaces - 220 spaces.

"If you give up that space, you'll never have those parking spaces again," she said.

By not maintaining the same number of parking spots, "you're telling business owners that you don't believe they're going to have any economic growth downtown," Christopher told the board. "Whatever happens downtown spirals out to all of Monroe. The same for west side and the north side. It's all of us together," she added.

Tyler Soukup, co-owner of Baumgartner's, suggested a new ramp would have lower maintenance costs for possibly the first 18 years; however, Gerber recommended the city still set aside $30,000 to 40,000 annually in the city budgets to build up funds for future repairs.

One attendee said he has not seen the ramp getting much use and would like to see the city use its money to fix more streets. The ramp should be paid for by those who use it, he said.

Alderman Jan Lefevre said she gathered ideas at a recent Kiwanis Club meeting, where people noted they wanted a roof on the ramp, better lighting and constant policing or monitoring to reduce drug dealings, vandalism and people sleeping in the stairwells. Some people refuse to use the ramp because of these problems, Lefevre said.

The city has received letters from the Monroe Main Street, Monroe Arts Center and the Monroe Theatre Guild in support of keeping the downtown ramp.

The general issues of parking needs and regulating parking in the downtown area arose during the meeting, which Stangel said would be discussed at a Board of Public Works meeting Sept. 4. The board took no action on the ramp at its meeting on Monday.