Parking garage plans start to take shape

Designers are partway through a plan that could eventually lead to a three- to five-story garage off Alder Street behind Macy's.

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BURBANK -- A local design firm is making tracks on a possible solution for parking downtown.

Project engineers with USKH Inc. said Thursday they're about halfway through the concept design on a multilevel parking structure for the city-owned lot between Macy's and Alder Street. Based on initial exploration, a parking structure on the existing lot could range from three to five stories, add anywhere from 89 to 208 spots to the existing 64 spaces and cost anywhere from $3.8 million to upward of $6 million.

Though it's anyone's guess whether the structure could be financed, the plan is intended to help explore possibilities to curbing downtown Walla Walla's parking woes.

"An elevated parking lot has been talked about for decades," Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz said during Thursday's Port Commission meeting in Burbank.

But missing from the conversations have been details about the size of a potential garage, number of parking spaces and cost estimates so officials can then determine what would be needed to turn the vision into a reality.

"It's hard to have a constructive community dialogue on what needs to be done unless you have some answers," Kuntz said.

The parking issue was the subject of additional scrutiny last year when the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation conducted a parking study. The agency's parking committee submitted a report of possible solutions that included everything from improving the visibility of signs marking existing free lots to what's proven to be the most elusive solution of all: a parking complex.

Led by Port Commission President Mike Fredrickson, the Port stepped in over the summer to help with the exploration of a design concept. The Port hired USKH to create the structure concepts at the city's lot. Kuntz said the agency had the funding to pay for the work, estimated at no more than $6,000, so it contacted USKH.

During Thursday's meeting, commissioners got an idea of what a parking structure might entail. Just one member of the downtown public -- Tourism Walla Walla Chief Executive Officer Michael Davidson -- made the roughly 40-mile trek to Columbia Middle School specifically to hear the USKH presentation. The agenda was otherwise packed with updates on projects in the Burbank community, drawing a crowd of 30 to 40 residents, and other Port administrative business.

USKH project manager Dan Karas presented three options for the "approach" into and out of a parking garage off Alder Street. He also offered four layout options. Some included a retail component on the ground level. Variations included different numbers for compact and standard spaces, and different options for parking either on ramps or leveled floors.

"It is a fairly tight site for a garage," Karas said.

Though about halfway done with the concept design, numerous details are still left to be determined, including which configuration to choose. Without that, there's no telling how many parking spaces would be added or what the final costs would be. But here are a couple of details that have emerged:

Based on all configurations presented Thursday, a potential structure would add a minimum of 89 spaces to the existing 64. The largest option would more than quadruple the current number with 272 spots.

The overall price range would be between $20,000 and $30,000 per stall, or $50 to $60 per square foot.

The largest option -- a five-story structure -- would be roughly the same height as the neighboring building owned by Charles Potts and home to The Colville Street Patisserie.

The spaces in the garage would be squared versus angled for the most efficient use of space.

Port commissioners Thursday favored further renderings on the option that offered no retail space on the ground floor.

Kuntz emphasized the Port has no intention of running a parking structure and would have no ownership of it. The design work is simply to help provide information for officials as they move forward.

Last year's parking study illustrated the parking problem through numbers: More than 2,200 employees work downtown every day. But only 1,264 parking spaces are available. Downtown foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini said at the time the lot behind Macy's makes the most sense for a structure because it's already public land and it's in a spot that may be best used. After last year's study, Agostini pointed out people are less willing to walk more than three blocks from a parking structure to their destination.

USKH officials said Thursday the next step in the process will be to continue working on renderings to show what a structure might look like from the street. That would include possible exterior design work. Further details are expected to be revealed at an upcoming Port meeting.

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

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