BAR HARBOR — Town officials must work out ownership arrangements for a proposed shared parking garage with Tom Walsh’s Ocean Properties hotel company before further analysis can proceed, a consultant studying the project said Nov. 20.
Andy Hill of Desmond Associates told town councilors and garage committee members, including an Ocean Properties representative, that while several key policy decisions remain open, the most important by far is to determine who would own, run and pay for the nearly $10 million garage.
“The biggest questions we have are, is it a private venture, is it a public venture … and who’s taking the lead on this?” Hill asked those gathered for the meeting in council chambers. “Will Ocean Properties act as a partner, owner or tenant in a proposed solution, and under what terms?”
Town officials and Ocean Properties representatives have been talking about a possible shared parking garage on the site of the “backyard parking lot” behind Walsh’s West Street Hotel for some time, and in the spring of 2013, agreed to share the cost of a feasibility study.
Since that time, consultants with Desmond Associates have analyzed current and future parking scenarios, studied traffic conditions downtown and analyzed other sites, such as the Old Police Department parking lot. At the Nov. 20 meeting, Hill said that observations over the past two summers have shown that the parking problem here is growing as tourism demand increases.
“In the space of one year, the number of cars … had grown 1 to 4 percent from what we had seen in previous years,” he said. “Because these numbers are growing, your issues are compounding.”
Under current conditions, the town needs at least 75 spaces to reduce parking pressure. It is estimated that as development progresses, another 85 spaces would be required. Combined with the current 81 spaces in the backyard lot, an initial design target of roughly 250 spaces was conceived.
The West Street Hotel currently has a parking lot along Rodick Street with 67 spaces. Adding these into the proposed garage creates a need for more than 300 spaces although Ocean Properties Eben Salvatore said that he envisions being able to share spaces in a way that wouldn’t necessarily reserve uses for one or the other.
Desmond consultants are further recommending to town officials that they consider removing on-street parking on Rodick Street between Cottage and West streets, as well as along the bulk of Mount Desert Street from School to Spring Street. This would create a need for more than 60 replacement spaces in the garage, bringing the potential total closer to 375. A further consideration of making parking in residential neighborhoods by permit only would create the need for at least 60 more spaces, bringing the total to far above 400.
There are several different designs being proposed by Desmond, but only one would meet this number. Were the town to consider a four-story garage that covered the full backyard lot and the West Street Hotel lot on Rodick Street, a total of 479 spaces could be created at an estimated cost of $9.3 million.
A parking garage that did not include Walsh’s Rodick Street land could contain a maximum of 356 spaces at an estimated cost of $7 million, which would be enough to cover future needs were no changes to be made in residential areas and limited changes made to Mount Desert Street.
The advantage to the town of this plan would be to leave Walsh to develop Rodick Street with residences and shops, bringing in more tax revenue, consultants noted.
Town councilors expressed understanding of the need to consider these policy issues, as well as the potential for collaboration with Ocean Properties. The parking garage committee is likely to meet on the subject early next month, with another joint meeting with town councilors scheduled for the near future. Desmond consultants are hoping to have the information by mid-January so they can move into the fourth and final phase of their study, which is to include detailed financial analysis and plans.