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August 20. 2013 11:51PM

Aldermen want city to keep parking rights at Millyard, Pearl Street

MANCHESTER — An aldermen's committee has approved requests for proposals (RFP) for two downtown parking lots, while insisting that any city-controlled spaces in the projects be left to negotiations.

The RFPs concern the Pearl Street parking lot, off Elm Street north of Bridge Street, and the Bedford lot in the Millyard. The city currently owns and operates both as pay lots.

A Massachusetts developer has proposed building a student housing tower at the site of the Pearl lot, along with a 700-space parking garage. Earlier this month, the aldermen narrowly voted to reject selling the lot to the developer in favor of issuing an RFP. The developer originally offered $900,000 for the lot.

Parking was a key component of the RFPs reviewed by aldermen on Tuesday. As drafted by the city solicitor and finance director, the document for the Pearl lot stated that the city "reserves the right to purchase an easement for 250 to 350 parking spaces for $7,500 per space for public parking at its sole discretion."

Should it seek to purchase 330 spaces, the current capacity of the Pearl lot, the city would have to pay $2.6 million. This figure was daunting for several aldermen.

"I question how the city is going to afford it at this point," Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig said. "And I know it could be higher. The language (of the RFP) should focus on office or residential first, and parking secondarily."

The city used the $7,500 a space figure to calculate the price of the easement for the 68 parking spaces at 1155 Elm St. it sold earlier this month to the building's owner, who sought the spaces to accommodate its new tenant, insurance company Anthem.

Finance Director Bill Sanders said the cost per space for an easement in a new garage could very well be higher than $7,500. At the same time, he said the city could command higher prices for covered parking, bringing in more revenue for the city. The Pearl lot currently generates about $150,000 annually.

The aldermen on Tuesday voted to strike from the RFP the language concerning the amount the city was willing to pay for parking spaces.

They also voted to have the document indicate the possibility for a larger building footprint for the Pearl lot by discontinuing adjacent streets, and to hire a consultant to assist with the evaluation of the proposals.

The final RFPs are expected to be presented to the full board for a vote at its meeting Sept. 3.

Parking demand is even greater for the Bedford lot, which is relied on by employers and residents in the Millyard. The RFP scaled down the number of spaces once discussed for a garage at the site, which is considerably smaller than the Pearl lot, to 300-400 spaces.

"It's difficult to see 700 spaces," Sanders said. "We wanted to give the developer an opportunity to bring down parking and put more office or residential above it."

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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