Roughly 20 years after the city first floated the idea of a downtown parkade, private developers have stepped forward to build one.
The developers, as yet unnamed, have set their sights on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Steele Street, where a city-managed parking lot currently sits.
If built, it could accommodate a minimum of 80 cars – 22 more than the existing parking lot.
The city owns the land and a tender must be issued to ensure a fair sale. That’s expected to happen in late May.
City councillors chewed over the idea at Tuesday evening’s council meeting where new zoning was introduced for the land.
“It’s a good thing the private sector has come forward on this because it takes a big headache off our hands,” said Councillor Dave Stockdale.
A city-financed study in 2008 discovered a parkade would cost the city $50,000 per stall to build, more than the city could afford.
An earlier study in 1999 found overwhelming opposition to the idea of a parkade from the public and business sector.
Since then, downtown business owners have wanted the city to build a parkade to alleviate a perceived parking crunch.
“We’ve heard over and over again from the chamber (of commerce) and other stakeholders that we need a parkade,” said Councillor Ranj Pillai.
He wants to see the developer create more than 80 stalls.
“That’s prime real estate on the market,” he said.
Ultimately, the number of stalls would be up to the developer, not the city.
Draft plans for the parkade show a building with retail and commercial space on the first floor, with additional floors for parking. A residential unit on the top floor could even be considered, said planning manager Mike Gau.
He believes a parking garage in the area could benefit both the city and surrounding businesses.
The city would gain revenue from selling the land and would bring in yearly taxes from the parkade, he said.
The existing parking lot runs on a cost-recovery basis, said Gau.
The development would also provide increased retail space downtown.
But the parkade, which would only encourage people to drive downtown, is seemingly at odds with the city’s concurrent strategy to improve its transit service.
Last week, the city announced plans to improve its bus system to beef up ridership and encourage people to leave their cars at home.
Pillai doesn’t see the two at odds.
“I think there has to be a balanced approach,” he said.
“I understand there’re probably concerns because of the optics of it. But improving transit while not supporting the downtown core isn’t sustainable.”
In May, the city will hold public hearings on zoning changes that would allow a parkade at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Steele Street.
The city is currently appraising the five parcels of land that make up the parking lot.
If the developer is successful in their bid for the land, construction on the parkade could begin as early as July.
The city plans to keep its parking lot open as long as it can before constructions goes ahead, said Gau.
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