Birmingham could get new garage

Voters in Birmingham will decide Feb. 28 if they want the city to go forward with plans for a $9.8- million, two-story underground garage.
Voters in Birmingham will decide Feb. 28 if they want the city to go forward with plans for a $9.8- million, two-story underground garage.

If voters approve a bond proposal on the ballot to build the garage, it also would pave the way for a $3-million expansion and redevelopment of the popular Shain Park, located in the heart of the city.

By building the approximately 220-space underground structure, which would replace a 155-space surface lot south of the park, the city would gain parking while also creating a central gathering spot for the community, said City Commissioner Don Carney, who also is a member of a group called Citizens for Shain Park.

"The downtown is very much in need of a focal point," Carney said.

Shain Park, already a draw for residents, especially during the summer months when concerts and other events bring in crowds, would become more of a hot spot if the redevelopment and expansion take place, residents and business owners say.

The improvements are to include a band shell for outdoor concerts, a larger children's play area and some kind of water feature, such as a fountain, according to conceptual plans for the park drawn by Birmingham resident and designer Ron Rea.

Specific details for the park and underground garage would be worked out if the bond proposal passes.

If approved, the bond wouldn't raise taxes for residents. It would be paid back with revenue from the city's parking structures and lots, according to city officials and the city's Web site.

But some businesses that directly benefit from the lot could be charged a special assessment to help cover the remainder of the expenses. The assessment wouldn't bother Karen Daskas, the co-owner of Tender, a women's fashion boutique on West Maple, and a member of Citizens for Shain Park.

The underground garage and improved park would benefit the city and help reduce congestion from parking on downtown streets, she said.

"I want a new park. I think it will be absolutely beautiful," Daskas said.

Carney said there have been some objections to the parking being underground, but new structures in cities like Milwaukee, Boston and Denver have shown that the spaces don't have to be dark and stifling.

"We're hoping that the new approach to underground parking ...would alleviate some of those concerns," Carney said. "They allow for more light and air."

Brook Balla, the general manager of Max & Erma's restaurant in Birmingham, said she hadn't been aware of the plans to seek a bond to build the underground structure.

But with her restaurant about two blocks from Shain Park, Balla said she would welcome the extra parking and activity at the park.

"There's never enough places to park," Balla said. "If we had more parking it would be awesome."

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