Friday, May 1, 2009

To build or not to build, that is the question.

At last night’s CRA meeting commissioners voted to ask O’Leary how much he wants for his property in the Cove. He paid a little over 3 million for it. I have heard up to 8 million being quoted as his asking price. What led up to this was a discussion about building the garage in the Cove Shopping Center.

I was very encouraged early on in the meeting when Commissioner Bill Ganz asked a number of questions of the city staff about the garage. He wanted to know if there was another city who has built a garage recently and how much did it cost them. At the last meeting the commissioners heard that it would be about $16,500 per space (building only, without the cost of the land) to build a garage in the Cove.

City Manager Mahaney answered that Hollywood just built one and it cost them $37,000 per space without the cost of the land, completed in 2008. Hollywood said it is full on weekends during the season, “pretty busy during the week” if the weather is nice, off season half full on weekends and only 10-15% full during the week. The city of Naples’ built a garage which cost $27,300 per space without the land.

Bill Bodenheimer, owner of the garage on A1A just happened to be in the audience and stood up to say that a garage takes 10 years before it starts making money.

When Mayor Peggy said she was not comfortable (with building a garage) at this time because there are so many things to use the CRA money for I thought “Wow, she finally gets it!”

The need for a garage was never studied, is there a need for a garage in the Cove? Nobody really knows. Looking at the parking situation now, there are very few times overall when parking is scarce; that is mostly Friday nights, and some weekends when the free parking attracts beach goers. Nearby residents have taken to driving past the lot at different times during the week and have told me they see the same thing. Parking is only a problem when the Cove Restaurant is busy, or when the Fiesta is having an affair.

If O’Leary builds his restaurant, I understand the plans are lovely, nice big restaurant, he would need parking; his little lot would not accommodate the crowds. The Cove restaurant already hogs the Friday night spaces; there would be none left for him. He should be the one to build a garage for his restaurant as he is the one who needs it. And, if it could be a profitable venture he would. I guess he wants the city to build it because he knows it will not make money. That is my fear, we build it and it loses money, my money, your money; my taxes are high enough thank you.

Another thing to consider; if a city owned garage goes in, they would have to charge for parking, and to avoid the diners taking all the ground level free spots, the city would have to meter the shopping center. This would be a death knell for the stores, can you think of a shopping center where you have to pay for parking? I can’t. Private restaurants need it, let them build it.

Can you see the city building an $8,250,000 (which, according to a builder in the audience, is what a 500 space garage which is a simple rectangle with no extra design features would cost without the cost of the land) to $18,500,000 for one like Hollywood built with extra esthetic features to make it look nice? And after spending all that money, and linking the $3,000,000 or so per year that the CRA takes in for improvements to the area to this garage for the foreseeable future AND THEN not making a profit on the thing!!! Nope, neither can I. As Bill Ganz said, it would strap us for years.

So I was really happy when Mayor Peggy said not now, said it’s a really big ticket item. Then she came up with asking O’Leary how much the land would cost, and then she came up with maybe build the garage on the city owned part of the shopping center, right in the middle of the center. Sure, picture that, a big square box in front of all the stores, imagine the owners delight at being stuck behind a big garage. Be prepared for the area residents storming city hall when they learn what they will be staring at from their yards. These are the same residents whose protests halted the land use change for the parcels by the Cove Marina when Agnew wanted to build a condo there.

The architect who lost the bid to plan the Cove parking upgrade was not a happy camper when his plan lost out; he did a lot of free work during the planning stages. His plan showed a parking garage smack in the center of the lot, and, as I remember, some kind of big bridge flyover thing over Hillsboro Ave. The businesses and residents who chose the design of the lot were against those ideas then; I don’t think they will be for it now. But, it makes one wonder if he is where these ideas are coming from.

Please, everyone ask:
· Is a garage really needed right now; should there be a traffic study done to determine if it is?
· Who is lobbying for this? Who benefits from this garage? Who says it is needed?
· Should public taxpayer money be spent because private restaurants need parking?
· Should it be done now? Maybe construction costs are now at a low and they will be much higher in the future, and maybe not. Should this be a reason for rushing into what may be a losing proposition for the taxpayers?

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