On summer weekends, competition for good parking spots in Coeur d’Alene turns cutthroat.
Thousands of people are funneling into town to eat out and shop, enjoy the waterfront and patronize local festivals, parades and sporting events. They’re scrambling to find parking in a downtown core that’s short at least 220 spots during times of peak demand, according to a 2016 study.
To address parking shortages, Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewable agency is working on plans for a $5.9 million parking garage.
Preliminary plans for the structure, unveiled this week, show a 4-level garage with 370 stalls. At the neighbors’ request, the garage fronting the 300 block of Coeur d’Alene Avenue has architectural details designed to help the structure blend in with downtown’s historic brick buildings.
Without easy access to parking, visits to downtown Coeur d’Alene will stagnate, said Sam Taylor, the city’s assistant manager.
“Coeur d’Alene’s waterfront is a jewel. Everyone knows that,” Taylor said. “Even if you’re not going to spend money downtown, people need access to that waterfront.”
People want to park their vehicles close to shops, restaurants and Lake Coeur d’Alene, Taylor said. Inadequate parking also hampers downtown investment. It creates barriers for developers interested in buying and renovating vacant older buildings, he said.
With 370 stalls, the parking garage would initially be overbuilt. But within 10 years, Coeur d’Alene’s downtown is project to need 360 more parking spaces, according to the parking study, which was commissioned by the city.
The parking garage would be built on land owned by both the city and the urban renewal district. Coeur d’Alene’s City Council will get its first look at the parking garage’s preliminary design next week.
Under a best-case scenario, the construction would begin on the garage later this year and it would be finished in 2018, said Tony Berns, the urban renewal agency’s executive director.
The urban renewal agency would pay for the parking garage, which is expected to generate revenue through receipts from paid parking.
In addition to the garage, city officials have been working on other ways to make more parking available for visitors. To keep downtown employees from grabbing the best parking spots, the city began offering discounted parking of $15 per month at the McEuen Park garage about 18 months ago. The discount is available for downtown business owners and their employees.
“We had one young woman – a server at a local restaurant – who came to City Hall to pay her parking tickets. She found she had $900 in citations,” Taylor said. “Some of these folks are parking right at the businesses where they work.”
The city also has stepped up its collection efforts for unpaid parking tickets. That’s an incentive for people to honor the time limits for downtown parking spaces, Taylor said. If tickets aren’t paid, they’ll be turned over to a collection agency.
“There are many thousands of people trying every day to find a place to park,” Taylor said. “We have to have turnover in our parking spaces. … If we don’t, it’s very difficult for people to participate in our community.”
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