The Bloomington City Council approved an $18.5 million bond Wednesday night to fund the rebuilding of the Fourth Street parking garage with a 5-3 vote.
More than 30 people spoke during more than two hours of public comment. Owners of downtown restaurants and businesses and representatives from Cardinal Stage theater company, Buskirk-Chumley Theater and WonderLab Museum all spoke in favor of the garage’s rebuild.
“Parking for businesses is like water,” Jeff Mease, CEO of One World Enterprises, said. “You need it.”
Other residents advocated for repairing the garage to make it last another five years. They wanted the $18.5 million and additional interest estimated to be up to $11 million to be put into public transit.
Tax Increment Financing funds that come from property taxes in the area of redevelopment will be used to fund 75 percent of the garage. The remaining 25 percent will be funded by parking revenue. Some called it subsidized parking, which they argued is not something that should be subsidized. Others said the construction will use taxes that businesses contribute to give back to the business community.
“It’s a right that businesses would expect TIF funds to be used to build a garage that would benefit downtown,” council member Dave Rollo said. “When I talk to businesses, they need predictability.”
Jessica Messmer, co-owner of Cup & Kettle, was one of many downtown business owners who said its patrons who come from out of town or just outside downtown, as well as customers with mobility issues depend on the Fourth Street parking garage to access her business.
“It’s very stressful for people who are traveling from out of town and visiting Bloomington to find parking,” Messmer said.
She and other business owners said they know of some people who give up looking for parking and leave.
“If we don’t invest in this parking garage, we’re going to kill our downtown economy,” council member Susan Sandberg said.
Council candidate Jean Capler said whether the council voted for rebuilding the garage or not, they need to focus on improving public transit immediately, especially for residents who can’t afford to have a car. She said the current system is unreliable.
“We can’t keep kicking this down the road,” Capler said. “We need better public transit.”
Council candidate Kate Rosenbarger said she has talked to many low- to mid-income people over the past few months, and parking was not a main concern of theirs. Public transit was.
She then went on to quote all the council members from their December meeting in which none of them supported the rebuild of the Fourth Street garage.
Council candidate Daniel Bingham, who has been against the rebuild since the discussions started last year, said incentivizing parking will make it easy to keep using cars, which he argued needs to end.
“We’ve got 10 years to completely restructure society or we face catastrophic consequences,” Bingham said, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report.
Council member Stephen Volan, who voted no, argued that IU has much higher priced parking, and Bloomington’s parking needs to reflect similar prices.
“We’re not talking about any parking, we’re talking about publicly subsidized parking that is cheap and convenient,” Volan said. “That’s not how parking works. It’s either cheap or convenient.”
Council member Andy Ruff also said no, making his decision at the last minute after saying he saw the value in the comments made by people concerned about the effects of continued car usage.
“You cannot dismiss these comments if you are intellectually honest,” council member Andy Ruff said.
Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith was the other who said no.
“It’s irresponsible to use $30 million of city money in the year 2019 to build a massive concrete parking garage that is 75 percent subsidized by the city of Bloomington,” Piedmont-Smith said.