The opening of the new Fourth Street parking garage last month has alleviated some space constraints and made life a bit easier for downtown employees and customers, according to business trade groups.
Downtown businesses are emerging from a pandemic-induced malaise, and not having to worry about lack of parking is providing some relief.
“Parking in general is a big part of every single day for many downtown employees and businesses and customers,” said Talisha Coppock, executive director of Downtown Bloomington Inc., a nonprofit membership organization.
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The economic recovery remains fragile, she said, and some customers still hesitate to join crowded indoor spaces, so not having to worry about parking takes away some of the stress.
Erin Predmore, president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
“It’s been great to have additional parking,” she said.
With the return of students and events such as this coming weekend’s Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, downtown merchants are glad that parking constraints have been lessened, Predmore said.
While the garage is seeing some hourly customers, she said the spaces primarily help employers who have struggled to find adequate, close and safe parking for their employees.
Outside of the leased spaces, parking at the garage is supposed to cost 50 cents an hour. But some of the garage’s electronic equipment malfunctioned last week, which forced city officials to allow people to park in the garage free of charge.
However, Bloomington Public Works Director Adam Wason said a replacement part was expected to be installed this week, as early as Tuesday.
The garage entrance is on West Fourth Street, between South Walnut Street and South College Avenue.
About 100 of the nearly 540 spots will be dedicated to hourly parking, while the rest will be leased to downtown employers. Few lease spots remain, Wason said. Some of the leased spaces are reserved 24/7, while others are leased for 12 hours a day Monday-Friday, opening them up for hourly use at night and on weekends.
He also said the city still has to complete additional landscaping, artwork that will be integrated into the building’s façade and a sign that will indicate whether the garage is full.
Wason said when city officials opened the garage in August, they knew some additional work needed to take place and they expected to have to work out some kinks. Nonetheless, they wanted to have the structure open to provide additional parking as students arrived for Indiana University’s fall semester.
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Commercial office and retail spaces on the ground floor of the garage are, as of yet, unoccupied, and no leases have been signed, Wason said.
According to a brochure from Cockerham Commercial Real Estate & Consulting, the garage offers four 1,800-square-foot spaces, which can be combined. Wason said the spaces could accommodate businesses such as restaurants, retailers or a coffee shop.
Wason also said he expects solar panels to be installed within the next month. City officials hope the panels will generate enough electricity to operate the garage and businesses, but Wason said that depends a bit on the type of businesses that will occupy the space.
While the garage has not yet been fully occupied, Wason said it has seen increasing traffic, and he expects that trend to continue, especially as the nation emerges fully from the pandemic and people come downtown more often to work, shop, dine or attend events.
The garage replaced a smaller one that the city initially planned to rehab but then demolished.
In February 2019, a report on additional structural inspections revealed extensive deterioration. The council issued an $18.5 million bond for a new garage. Including interest, the total cost of the garage was expected to rise near $30 million. The bond is to be paid through parking garage fees and tax increment financing revenue.
After the city closed the old garage, downtown merchants said they saw less foot traffic, though some council members at the time also worried about subsidizing parking at a time when vehicle traffic should be curbed to help combat climate change.
The discussion flared up again during recent budget talks, with some council members suggesting the price of garage, lot and street parking should be adjusted based in part on the parking spots’ popularity.
Boris Ladwig is the city government reporter for The Herald-Times. Contact him at [email protected]