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Kirkwood officials eye buildings for parking lots, but some balk at cost

Most visitors and residents alike would agree that downtown Kirkwood has lots of appeal but that adequate parking isn't one of them.
parking plan.jpgCity Hall has come up with a plan to add a parking lot, but at least two City Council members say the nearly $1.43 million price tag including property acquisition, demolition and development costs is much too high. They also say the city has more pressing priorities. And the two council members, Gina Jaksetic and Gerry Biedenstein, argue that the public hasn't had a chance to weigh in on the proposal. At least four other council members so far have supported the project.

The council is scheduled to take a first-round vote Thursday night on the administration's proposal to spend $1.25 million for the properties. The city wants to buy the old Mel Bay Music Center of Kirkwood building at 113 West Jefferson Avenue and the property immediately east of it, at 107 West Jefferson. The city plans to raze the buildings and build parking lots. The proposed contracts are $617,500 for 107 West Jefferson and $632,500 for 113 East Jefferson. Mel Bay Enterprises Inc. owns both properties and has accepted the contracts, pending council approval.

City Administrative Officer Mike Brown said the shortage of parking downtown has been a problem for years.

Brown said that the land, along with an existing parking lot west of the 113 building, would create a new, expanded parking lot of 90 spaces. The existing lot, which has 44 small spaces, would be restriped into standard-size spaces.

"Downtown parking is critically short and restaurants have had problems due to the shortage," Brown said. "Other existing buildings are losing patrons to other areas like Webster. The number of adequately sized parking and disabled parking is lacking."

Brown said that the Chamber of Commerce, Special Business District and mayor supported the purchase.

The Downtown Special Business District, which collects taxes and business license fees from all businesses in the district, would pay $100,000 to help defray the development costs for the new parking. Brown estimated costs for demolition and building the lot at $175,000 or less.

Brown said the city had to act quickly.

"The city is fortunate that these two buildings came on the market at the same time," he said.

The money would come from general fund cash reserves.

The council voted in closed session Sept. 22 to authorize Brown to move forward to try to obtain property for parking. A maximum amount was set.

The vote was 4-1, with Jaksetic voting no. Two other council members Biedenstein and Bob Sears were not at the meeting.

Jaksetic says the city was acting too hastily and may be paying too much.

"We haven't addressed whether we have other alternatives to address the parking issue," Jaksetic said.

Jaketsic said the city had spent months preparing a long-range plan that identifies other priorities including new water mains and improved streets.

"I'm most frustrated because we had several years of inaction by the council on parking, and now they're saying we have to act now that this is an opportunity we can't pass up," she said.

She suggested construction of a parking garage on a city-owned lot on East Jefferson, just east of the Kirkwood Station Restaurant and Brewery Co. (formerly Highlands Brewing Co.)

Jaksetic said the contract offers are significantly higher than the county's appraised values of the properties. She said the city had conducted a comparative appraisal after the fact but not a formal real estate appraisal.

She calculated costs for each of the 46 new parking spaces at $30,978, and that the city would lose property and sales tax revenue when the properties are removed from the tax rolls.

Biedenstein said that he wants more facts before voting. He also said the cost was too high. "It's not that (more parking) is a bad idea," Biedenstein said. "It's just that you're using public money."

Biedenstein also has many reservations about using the reserve funds because of other competing demands for the money.

"It's really hard to commit the money" without knowing long range plans, he said. We really need the facts. ... We're trying to move too fast."

Brown said the purchase was not unprecedented. The city also bought property such as the Train Station, green space along the farmers market area and other parking lots. (The city bought two lots and leases three.)

Recently, an upscale restaurant withdrew its plans to open downtown, citing lack of parking as one reason, the city said in a press release. On average, the city estimates one medium-size restaurant can add $29,000 a year in sales tax revenue.
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