ST. ALBANS CITY — St. Albans City officials answered questions about a proposed parking garage during a public hearing Monday night. Some of the questions stemmed from an anonymous flier that has been posted around the city and stuffed into mailboxes.
As a result, the meeting focused in part on garage capacity and safety concerns, plus the project’s ramifications for development and future economic growth within the city.
City voters will decide today whether to authorize the city council to borrow up to $13 million to pay for the garage and improvements to the intersection of Lake and Federal streets. The bond would be repaid with funds from the city’s tax increment financing district.
One of the claims raised in the fliers is that city officials are lying about the number of parking spaces in the existing core parking lot. The lot is the site of the proposed parking garage.
City officials have said there are 100 spaces in the parking lot. The garage will have 370 spaces, with 170 allocated to employees at the new state office building. Another 100 will likely be allotted to a new commercial development planned for Lake Street, with the remaining 100 for general public use.
The flier claims the lot has 153 parking spaces. The same statement was posted last Friday on Front Porch Forum and submitted by Geraldine Turner of Lake Street where it has attracted comments defending the garage proposal.
Turner was not present at the hearing last night. Those in attendance asked questions but no one stood up in opposition to the bond vote’s passage.
Ward 5 Alderman Ryan Doyle pointed out that the lot is ringed with privately owned buildings, many of which have their own parking. That parking may appear to be part of the public parking, but is not. The private parking will remain as it currently is.
“There’s 100 spaces there today and there will be 100 spaces there tomorrow,” said Dominic Cloud, the city manager.
Cloud also addressed concerns about safety. The garage will have at least 12 cameras on its five levels. There will be streetlights on the sidewalks around the perimeter of the building and lighting within the building will be 10 times the required level for a parking garage. In addition, stairwells and elevators will have glass walls to provide passive security.
Modern garages are designed with security in mind, according to Cloud.
“The best deterrent to illicit activity is economic activity,” he pointed out.
Linda Ryan, executive director of Tim’s House, which borders the parking lot, said she is hoping the garage is approved. “It’s going to really clean up that back area,” said Ryan.
Ryan added she believes the garage will make the area safer.
The city is asking voters to authorize the city council to borrow up to $13 million. The final amount will be determined once the project has gone out to bid and contractors for the various parts of the project were selected.
City council will then have final say on whether to borrow the funds.
The parking garage debt will be combined with $3 million in TIF spending already approved by voters. That spending was for the purchase of land and clean up of contamination on the site of the new Ace hardware store at North Main and Congress streets, designing the garage, the downtown streetscape project and professional services related to TIF projects.
Annual payment on the $16 million is expected to be between $750,000 and $1.1 depending on the terms of the bond.
The city plans to make those payments with property taxes on $35 million in new development or redevelopment. Because it has a TIF district the city can divert 75 percent of education and municipal property taxes on the new developments to pay off public infrastructure debt.
In calculating the funds available to make the debt payments the city officials only used known, certain projects. They did not include speculative projects, said Cloud.
The garage will make it possible for the state to move to a new state office building to be built by the ReArch Company on Federal Street and leased by the state; it will not be tax exempt. The state will sell the current, tax-exempt office building on Houghton Street to Mylan Technologies, Inc. The sale will return that building to the tax rolls. Together, the two buildings will add $13 million to the city’s tax rolls. The remaining $22 million comes from:
- the new 84,000-square-foot research and production facility recently built by Mylan on Lake Street;
- the new St. Albans Cooperative Creamery Store and the current expansion of the cooperative’s milk powdering facility;
- the Ace building currently under construction on the corner of Main and Congress streets;
- the nearly complete renovation of the historic St. Albans House at Lake and Catherine streets;
- the restoration of four downtown buildings by Walmart developer Jeff Davis; the purchase and renovation of the buildings is part of an agreement Davis reached with the city several years ago.
“We’re only counting chickens that have hatched,” said Cloud.
The sale of the old state office building to Mylan will allow the company to add another 100 workers in St. Albans, with the potential for more. “Mylan is choosing St. Albans for some very important reasons,” said Mayor Liz Gamache. “They want to do business here in St. Albans.”
During the ribbon cutting on the company’s new research and production facility on Lake Street, company executives said Mylan plans to double its staff worldwide in the next five years. Officials also announced they had chosen to expand in St. Albans because of the quality of the workforce and the ability to work with state and local officials to secure the needed permits.
The project also would bring 170 state workers closer into downtown, which city officials believe will help bolster downtown stores and restaurants.
“This project has been described as a game changer, a generational opportunity, and a chance to secure the future of St. Albans,” said Cloud. “It’s all true.”
Polls are open at St. Albans City Hall today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.