Meeting to spotlight possible parking garage

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WALLA WALLA -- A vision to help with downtown's long lamented parking problem will be presented Thursday during a Port of Walla Walla meeting in Burbank.

Architectural designer Alex DeMambro of USKH Inc. will present a conceptual design for a parking garage at the Port's meeting at Columbia Middle School, 835 Maple St. The meeting begins at 6 p.m., but DeMambro's presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m. Port commissioners will depart from their usual meeting place at the economic development agency's administrative headquarters in an effort to reach out to other segments of the county where the Port owns property and is focusing attention on other projects.

The Port of Walla Walla entered into a contract with USKH last summer with the intention to create a concept for a three-story parking garage at the city-owned lot between Macy's and Alder Street. The project includes planning and consideration of pedestrian paths that link the garage to the downtown core, according to a copy of the fee proposal and scope of work. The Aug. 19 document, obtained from the Port, indicates the project effort at the time was confidential.

Port Commission President Mike Fredrickson said this morning the idea to develop a rendering was his, but he wanted to keep it behind the scenes so that it would not appear to be a movement in his re-election campaign.

He said he asked Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz to see if there was support from fellow commissioners Paul Schneidmiller and Ron Dunning for a parking garage rendering and if money existed in the consulting budget for the project.

"People had been talking about a parking structure for 20 years in downtown Walla Walla," he explained. "But no one knows what it would look like or what it would cost."

Kuntz is authorized to enter into such agreements without a formal vote of the commissioners when the value of a project falls under a certain amount. In this case, the $6,000 fee qualifies, Fredrickson said.

Numerous studies have identified parking as one of downtown's most vexing growing pains, but solving the problem has been an even bigger conundrum, he said.

A solution is next to impossible if downtown and community officials don't have an idea of what they're trying to build.

Fredrickson said the results of USKH's work will be on file for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation or the city -- presumably to take the lead. The Port is simply working in support to help facilitate the process. Fredrickson said the project fits into the Port's mission of supporting infrastructure projects to benefit economic development.

"I look at it as something I think would help our community, especially since we've become more touristy," the commissioner said.

He said one level of the garage could be leased to businesses for employee parking. The overall structure could help provide safer parking in one concentrated area for those working downtown. He said the Port may have been the only agency that could step in to provide a concept for the solution because it had the funds available.

"More than anything it's to help the (downtown) foundation and say, 'OK, here's what we need to raise,'" he explained. "Right now they're just grasping at numbers."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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