Indiana Daily Student

Residents and city council both divided over Fourth Street parking garage future

<p>A sign informs Bloomington residents that the Fourth Street Parking Garage is closed. The garage is closed due to structural issues.</p>

A sign informs Bloomington residents that the Fourth Street Parking Garage is closed. The garage is closed due to structural issues.

About 20 people made public comments at Bloomington City Council’s Wednesday meeting to reconsider replacing the Fourth Street parking garage. The estimate for the repairs to the garage increased by about $300,000 in a February assessment.

The decision to either fix the garage or replace it has polarized the council and community because of its prominence to Bloomington’s downtown businesses as well its impacts in the eyes of local environmental activists.

On Dec. 19, after over a month of discussion, the city council voted down the city’s $18.5 million plan to demolish and rebuild the garage, choosing instead to support a $1.1 million plan to repair it. The repairs will make the structure last another five years. After five years, the council would reassess the need for the garage.

An evaluation last month determined repairs will now cost $1.4 million because the garage had deteriorated significantly between May 2018 and February. Including all construction and inspection costs, the estimate is actually $1.6 million, according to city documents. The garage has been closed since the beginning of January.

Local business owners at the meeting Wednesday argued rebuilding the garage was crucial for their customers to participate in the local economy. Residents who live outside of the downtown area expressed concern about finding parking when going downtown if the garage is not replaced.

Erin Predmore, president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, said 178 businesses and organizations signed a petition in support of a rebuild. She said two businesses are considering moving out of downtown if the garage is not rebuilt.

“We need to you to build a garage so our visitors feel welcome, our businesses feel welcome,” Predmore said.

Geoff McKim, a Monroe County Council member, argued that if the garage was taken away, consumers may take their cars and their business elsewhere, harming downtown establishments and not limiting carbon emissions.

Others strongly opposed the rebuilding of the the garage. Many were young adults concerned about climate change.

Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger, both city council candidates, talked about letting the market decide in the next five years whether replacing the garage is necessary.

“If the market demanded it, private businesses would build it,” Rosenbarger said.

Rosenbarger said she also wants the council to look at parking more comprehensively in the future and not one garage at a time.

City council candidate Daniel Bingham pointed out that Bloomington Transit’s 2017 budget was $10.3 million, but it would take $18.5 million to replace the garage. Bingham has been adamant about the importance of phasing out car usage since the December meetings about the garage.

Ron Walker, chairman of the board of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and local property manager, talked about tenants with mobility problems and business owners who have suffered from the Fourth Street garage being closed.

Council member Allison Chopra said she has always been able to find parking when she goes downtown for entertainment and meetings.

“I really think there is a perception and reality problem,” Chopra said.

Council member Dave Rollo was in favor of the rebuild. He said he is also concerned about the environment, but he thinks downtown businesses will move to the outskirts of the city and build large parking lots there if the parking garage is not replaced. He said this would create urban sprawl.

Council member Andy Ruff said he was unsure because of the complexity of the issue. He is concerned about car usage, but he said he sees the garage as an important piece of infrastructure for the area.

Council member Chris Sturbaum is in support of the garage being rebuilt and does not see it negatively impacting the environment.

“City greenways — all about them. Climate change — totally against it,” Sturbaum said. “But this is not about that.”

Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith disagreed.

“I disagree vehemently with my fellow council members that say this isn’t about climate change,” Piedmont-Smith said. “This is about climate change.”

She also encouraged business owners to talk to her about other solutions.

“Everyone says, ‘We need parking, we need parking,’” she said. “The human race needs a reduction of greenhouse gases."

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