Saturday, May 19, 2007

Council Kills Engineering Contract For Downtown Parking Garage

By Tony Brockmeyer

Tuesday night the City Council killed item B-1b on the Consent Agenda which would have awarded an engineering contract to HDR for the first phase of a long planned parking garage in Downtown St. Charles. The idea of building more parking had been championed by Second Ward City Councilman Larry Muench in the past as well as the Special Business District (SBD) and Historic Downtown Association (HAD).
Those efforts came to a crashing halt Tuesday evening as the City Council unanimously shot down the engineering contract at the urging of the Mayor and Council President Bob Kneemiller. They argued that there was no money for the project. Previously the Council had set aside future funding in the Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) to address parking problems.
For decades, business owners on North Main Street have complained about a lack of adequate parking. Most vocal in the past has been long-time businessman on North Main, Maurice (Mo) Thro, owner of Thro’s and Michelle’s clothing stores.
Councilman Larry Muench had pushed for a site between First Capitol and Jefferson between North Second Street and the alley to the East. He had envisioned a cooperative agreement between the City, St. Joseph’s SSM Hospital, which owns part of the site, and the corporate business Quilogy, which owns another portion of the site. The preliminary engineering contract with HDR was to determine the size, scale and cost of the project.
Though the project would have been located on the First Ward side of First Capitol, the project received no support from First Ward Councilman Richard Veit, who also voted to kill the parking garage project. While some Council members said they would form another committee to “study” the parking problems of Downtown, one member of the Historic Downtown Association we spoke with, who owns property on Main, said that any hope of parking relief just got setback years. She questioned if Councilmen Veit and Muench knew what they were voting on, or if they were just going along with the Council President and trusting what they were told.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, this property owner observed, ”Some people were afraid this new City Council would be less supportive of Downtown. In the long-term this is really short-sighted. Downtown is the heart of St. Charles. Too many businesses are already struggling to get by.”
Some long-time business owners on the street were shocked to hear of the council’s actions, though they prefer their reactions to remain anonymous for now. “Everyone knows there isn’t enough parking down here. That’s one reason why it is so hard to lease space and why there are so many empty storefronts.”
Specifically cited by some owners were businesses in the 100 block of South Main. “If you are a big business the city finds you parking or leases you space. But if you have a coffee shop or hair salon you are on your own. Nobody cares about small business owners.”
One local attorney and frequent visitor to Downtown said they always had problems trying to find parking to go to Lewis & Clark’s Restaurant. “Even at night you are hard pressed to get a convenient parking space. A garage there would have been great. I’m sorry to hear the City killed the idea.”