BELFAST – City leaders are considering the idea of building a deck on a downtown parking lot that gets heavy use by locals and tourists alike.
A committee has been formed to review engineering proposals to investigate the possibility.
The city has received proposals from five engineering firms, ranging in cost from $3,000 to $5,000.
Belfast is seeking drawings and cost estimates for building a deck over the parking lot off Beaver Street. The lot is behind the downtown business blocks on Main and Church streets. It holds 55 vehicles and usually is filled by early morning.
City Manager Terry St. Peter stressed that the City Council has made no commitment to go forward with a parking deck. He said the council decided to investigate the possibility because funding for such a project may be made available through the infrastructure bond issue approved by state voters in June.
Building a deck over the Beaver Street lot has been a topic of discussion for years, but it wasn’t until last month that the council actually took the step of requesting a feasibility study.
The downtown has experienced growth in both commercial and residential activity in recent years, and parking has become a problem, especially during the summer months. The city now has two full-time summer ticket officers to enforce its parking ordinances.
The Beaver Street lot has a natural slope. The idea behind the plan is that it may not be too expensive to cover a portion of the lot with a parking deck. Because of the lot’s slope, St. Peter said, it is unlikely that ramps would be required to gain entrance to the deck.
St. Peter said Tuesday that the new committee would interview the five firms that submitted bids to get a feel for their ideas. The committee would be composed of St. Peter, Mayor Michael Hurley, City Councilors Phil Crosby and Mike Rauch, parking committee chairman Mark Weaver and a representative of downtown merchants.
St. Peter said the goal of the committee is to determine “which firm we feel is the most competent and we have the most confidence in. … We don’t want to just pick the person based on price. If the project were to go forward, we would stay with the engineer we started out with.”
Hurley said he supports the study. Parking problems are likely to grow over the years, and it would be wise to have a plan in place should the need to build a deck become more pressing, he said.
“My concern is that we have such a low utilization of the upper floors of some of our major downtown buildings, like the Opera House, Masonic building, Green-Keefe and KeyBank. If all those came on line we definitely would have a serious parking problem.”