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Tacoma: Modular parking garage eyed for Dome would add up to 700 spaces

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Sep. 15, 2010 at 10:47 am |
September 15, 2010 2:53 pm

What would the pre-fabricated parking lot proposed to be built across from the Tacoma Dome look like? And how would it be built?

This video gives you an idea:

Caught off-guard yesterday by a plan to pursue federal stimulus bonds to build the Dome parking lot, some city council members wanted more information before authorizing staff to pursue the project. That led City Manager Eric Anderson and some key staff members to quickly hold a presentation at the council’s Economic Development Committee just before last night’s regular council meeting.

The video was just part of the presentation that revealed other interesting details about the parking structure eyed for the proposed building site — at 27th and D Streets on the Dome’s existing lot.

It would be a pre-fabricated steel and concrete modular parking structure that some city officials likened to a big rector set. The garage – which would erect one parking level above the existing lot — could be quickly installed within a few months to create from 550 to 700 additional parking stalls, said Mike Combs, director of the city’s public assembly facilities.

“It goes up really quick,” Combs said.

As we reported today, the city council last night authorized the late addition of up to $9.4 million more in bonding capacity as part of bond issuance planned for city equipment and vehicle purchases in the coming two years.

The late inclusion sets the stage for the city to sell that amount of federal stimulus bonds to quickly build the modular parking garage next to the Dome, with one big if: The city first needs to beat out other local governments vying for the federally subsidized bonds that unexpectedly became available earlier this month. (The state’s commerce department announced Sept. 1 that $8-20 million of taxable Build America Bonds are coming available, after some local governments in Washington didn’t use them).

Anderson and his staff wanted to quickly pursue the bonds via the state’s first-come, first-serve application process, but they first needed the City Council’s approval.

But some council members seemed miffed the matter came up so quickly, with little information.

“I feel like I’m making a $9 million decision on the fly,” Councilman Jake Fey complained.

Anderson and his staff said they had no other choice but to move quickly to take advantage of a rare opportunity.

“The state notified us very recently that these funds were available,” Anderson said. “We had an opportunity to address an issue that we could not address in any other way.”

But after requesting more details, and sitting through yesterday’s presentation, council members were hardly blown away with the project. Several of them raised concerns about the temporary structure’s aesthetics and worried that the city is moving ahead without first consulting with Dome District groups and officials for the neighboring LeMay Museum.

With the LeMay museum now being constructed, 1,000 parking spaces of the dome’s parking lot have been consumed, creating the need to replace them. City officials have long discussed building a new parking structure, and the unexpected bond availability would allow the city to pursue what Anderson called “a fast, cheap solution.”

“We’ll try to make it look as best we can, make it as attractive as possible,” added Anderson, noting the city could opt to invest in ideas to improve the garage’s aesthetics, should the project move forward.

Councilman David Boe, who called the project a “situational convenience” based on opportunity rather than good urban planning, noted the city should be pursuing a comprehensive analysis of Dome District parking with an eye toward the neighborhood’s needs.

“I see this almost as the tail wagging the dog,” he said.

Anderson said that with the council’s authorization to at least apply for the bonds, he would quickly assign staff to consult with stakeholders. He added the council could review the project in more detail while the city applies for the bonds, and should the council decide against the project, so be it.

With the federal government subsidizing 45 percent of the bonds interest rates, the city could save more than $2 million by using the stimulus bonds over a 30-year bond issue, city finance director Bob Biles said.

“That’s the opportunity here,” Biles said.

Councilman Spiro Manthou, who seemed the most open to the project, noted “these opportunities come along once in a blue moon.”

“We don’t want to miss out on that opportunity,” Manthou added.

Still, Fey added he was “struggling” with the idea.

“It is a temporary building that might become more permanent,” Fey said. “I understand the need and the (bond opportunity). But I don’t want it to be an opportunity that we jump on quickly that then affects other decisions we make in the future. I want to do it right from the beginning.”

Among other information, the council asked for a financial analysis of the bond issue and for details about other projects that could have been eligible for the bond program instead of the dome parking project.

City staffers said the dome project was the logical choice, as it met key eligibility requirements — including being shovel-ready — and has a dedicated revenue source (parking fees) that wouldn’t impact the general fund.

With the council’s bond authorization last night, the city can now apply for the stimulus bonds. But the council is not obligated to issue them should it the state award the bonds, but council members ultimately decide the project isn’t right.

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