Parked … Downtown plans for a garage hit wall

The parking study found that the combined 1,800 public and private parking spots in the downtown area are an adequate amount for a city the size of Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Donna Mitchell, manager of the city of Dover, said plans have officially been put in park when it comes to pursuing a parking garage to serve the city’s visitors and downtown area businesses.

Mrs. Mitchell said the city received the Request for Proposals (RFP) from a couple of interested developers to build a parking garage off Governors Avenue, but after discovering the costs associated with the plans, decided that neither will be further pursued.

“We knew that when we got the proposals in when we did the (RFP) that we would know whether we could make this project work or not,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “Looking at the proposals that we received, we don’t think we can move forward with the project due to a proposed parking fee increase.

“In order to get revenue for the garage, we would have to increase our parking rates very high. So now we’re going to go back to work and see what other alternatives might be available for us.”

Mrs. Mitchell said that one of the proposals for the parking garage was incomplete and did not mention the parking fee they would expect to be charging while another proposed developer was looking to charge a daily rate of $12.50 in order to recoup the costs of building the garage.

“I think we would need to see the revitalization of downtown become more robust before we move further with looking at a parking garage,” she said. “Right now, we don’t have the population downtown or the business or any of the draw that we would need to fill a garage.”

Dover was searching for a developer to design, build and finance the parking garage without using taxpayer funds as part of the RFP. The selected developer would then be allowed to manage and collect money from the garage and on-street parking in the downtown area.

Looking for a downtown ‘spark’

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and City Planner Dave Hugg were a couple of the biggest supporters of bringing a parking garage to downtown Dover.

Even though a study backed by the Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization and conducted by Langan Engineering of Philadelphia a couple of years ago dismissed the perceived need for a parking garage in downtown Dover, several city officials pressed on.

“The parking study that was conducted by the Dover/Kent County MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) did not, at first, contain the four-letter word that I told them I wanted to see in there — and that was ‘parking garage,’ Mayor Christiansen said two years ago.

“I think it’s been modified now from its draft form but (a parking garage) is something that I concur with the Downtown Dover Partnership that we need to actively pursue.”

The Dover/Kent County MPO, along with the Downtown Dover Partnership, studied the parking situation in areas that included 10 focus blocks, including Loockerman Street, Bradford Street, South Governor’s Avenue, as well as five city lots (Bradford Street, North Street, Minor Street, Loockerman Way and Governors Avenue).

The four major questions that the Kent County MPO was looking for answers were: Is there enough parking? How should the city communicate available parking? Is the current fee structure adequate? Is a parking garage warranted?

The parking study found that the combined 1,800 public and private parking spots in the downtown area are an adequate amount for a city the size of Dover.

The study also revealed that the peak rate for on-street parking is 75 percent, which occurs during the lunch hour, and other than that, the lots never approach capacity.

While the parking study concluded that the time wasn’t right for a parking garage, Mr. Hugg and Mayor Christiansen continue to believe otherwise.

“I think a parking garage would solve a lot of problems that downtown Dover businesses are facing and would give people a safe environment with which to park their cars,” Mr. Hugg previously said. “I believe a parking garage is something that the city needs to pursue if it is going to experience a revitalization of the downtown area.”

Currently, a hodgepodge of parking options, ranging from free two-hour parking to metered and permit parking spaces, can make parking downtown confusing — and a headache — for shoppers, diners and business owners.

Safety is also a concern, as downtown shoppers routinely complain of having to struggle past homeless people asking for money and other crimes that take place in the area.

“I’ve had the experience living there and the experience of being a business owner downtown,” said Sam Chick, who operates Puffster Smoke Vape Lounge on Loockerman Street. “A parking garage is needed and I hope this year is the year that action takes place on that.”

$1 million left unfulfilled

State Reps. Sean Lynn and Trey Paradee both grew up in Dover before deciding to operate their businesses in the downtown Dover corridor.

They both agreed with city of Dover officials that the addition of a parking garage near Loockerman Street was something that would spur investment and help revitalize the city’s downtown area.

That was the catalyst for Reps. Lynn and Paradee, along with Reps. Andria Bennett, Willam Carson and Sens. Brian Bushweller and Bruce Ennis, to lead the charge last year to secure $1 million in Bond Bill funding for the city of Dover for the construction of a parking garage in the downtown area.

It is unclear what the fate of those funds will be now that the city has dropped its plans for a parking garage.

Mrs. Mitchell made a request to Rep. Lynn in May 2018 for $1 million that would go toward the construction of a 400-plus vehicle parking garage in the central downtown area.

Ms. Mitchell wrote, “This project will increase parking availability, allow reuse of existing surface parking lots for more economically viable uses and send a signal to potential investors and entrepreneurs that the downtown is open for business.

“We conservatively expect that redevelopment could generate upwards of $25 million in new construction.”

It turned out that the parking garage received the preliminary funding, it just did not receive the final approval.

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