WALLA WALLA - Port of Walla Walla commissioners gave unanimous support Thursday to rolling ahead with further study on a downtown parking garage.
The three Port commissioners said they would like to form a coalition with the city of Walla Walla, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and other relevant agencies to fund a deeper study of whether Walla Walla needs a multilevel parking structure and what other alternatives might exist to a structure estimated to cost upward of $3.8 million.
Officials weren't sure of the cost or timeline as the concept continues to float throughout the community leadership groups.
No one's even yet sure if a parking structure is needed, they said. Response to the concept of a parking garage during a public meeting last week was mixed, said Commissioner Mike Fredrickson.
"It was everywhere from ‘No, we don't need it,' to ‘It should be built tomorrow,' to where I think most people fell: ‘There are still so many dang questions,'" Fredrickson said.
Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz told commissioners Thursday it will be impossible for the community to know how to resolve the parking debate without more information, including how a structure would even work.
"There needs to be somebody to push through the data analysis so decisions can be made," Kuntz said.
About 50 people, including business and property owners and government representatives, attended last week's informational meeting at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center on the potential for a multilevel parking structure.
The meeting offered the public a glance at design concepts - a step that Port of Walla Walla officials say is the first actual exploration of layout options in the decades that the parking issue has fueled frustrations for merchants and consumers.
The designs from USKH Inc. provided estimates of how many spaces would be added - 89 to 272; how many stories would be constructed - three to five; where it would be located - the city-owned lot on Alder Street behind Macy's; and a possible price estimate - anywhere from $3.8 million to more than $6 million.
How it would be financed, who would own it, what the cost would be, whether users would be charged for use and numerous other details remain unanswered.
Some have suggested creating more spaces through the conversion of diagonal parking on Alder Street. Others have suggested the Port's lot at Second Avenue and Sumach Street could be used for a structure.
Officials have said a study could explore all options.