BIDDEFORD – The City Council is expected to decide Tuesday whether to ask for voters’ approval to build the city’s first municipal parking garage.
City officials say the garage is a needed addition to the city’s infrastructure as former textile mills are redeveloped and more businesses move into the downtown, but some residents are pushing to have a say in the future of the project.
The project, with an estimated cost of $12.6 million, cannot move forward without City Council approval.
City officials are still working to line up funding – a mix of tax increment financing, revenue bonds and revenue from parking fees – to pay for the first phase of construction. The garage would not be paid for with property taxes or affect Biddeford’s tax rate.
The city also is working on land acquisition for the garage, which would be at the corner of Main and York streets. The site is on the Pepperell Mill Campus, owned by the local developer Doug Sanford.
Daniel Stevenson, the city’s economic development director, said a study commissioned by the city last year showed that Biddeford controls about 45 percent of the parking downtown, less than the optimal 50 percent.
“In order to stimulate economic growth in Biddeford’s downtown core, we need the parking,” Stevenson said. “If we want to grow our commercial tax base and create jobs, we need the necessary infrastructure to do so. Without it, development stops or buildings need to come down. We do not condone buildings coming down to create surface parking.”
Paul Therrien said he and about a dozen other residents want the City Council to put the project to a referendum on Nov. 5.
“I think an issue of this magnitude should be decided by the majority of the voters, not just a handful of elected officials,” he said. “We have got to have a say-so on this. We may give it our support, but we don’t know what the public is going to do.”
Last year’s study showed there are 1,427 parking spaces in the downtown area, including 367 on-street spots. There are 276 public spaces in parking lots, but the remaining 784 spots are reserved for private use.
Stevenson said more than half of the 505 to 550 parking spots to be built in the first phase of construction would be leased for commercial and residential use, potentially freeing up about 300 street and parking lot spots that now are used by people who work and live downtown. That would provide more on-street spaces for patrons who prefer to park near the businesses they visit, he said.
Stevenson said some of the revenue for the parking garage may come from new meters for on-street parking spaces. The city would likely favor a metering system in which people pay at automated kiosks and display receipts on their cars, he said.
If the parking garage is approved by the City Council – or by voters if it goes to a referendum — the final design will be completed this winter. Construction could begin as early as next spring and take about a year.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org