ST. ALBANS — The St. Albans City municipal parking garage is now open. Construction began on the $12.7 million structure last fall, when workers began preparing the site.

“Our civic pride is returning,” said St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache at the ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon. Construction of the garage began shortly after work was completed on the $3 million downtown streetscape project.

The garage is one piece of an economic development project that includes a new downtown office building to house 170 state workers, the expansion of Mylan Technologies, Inc., and the likely construction of a new hotel on Lake Street next year.

“In St. Albans, we know that smart economic development is essential to the health and well-being of any community,” said Gamache.

Gamache thanked the citizens of St. Albans for their “willingness to explore opportunities of what we might be, to challenge inertia and to take steps to build a brighter St. Albans for today and future generations.” City voters approved $13 million in tax increment financing for the garage last September in a vote of 559-170.

She also thanked current and former city council members, city staff, engineer Peter Cross, real estate consultant David White, the architects Desman Associates and ReArch Inc., which oversaw the construction. Overall 17 Vermont businesses contributed to the construction of the garage.

Gamache also thanked representatives Mike McCarthy and Kathy Keenan, and state senators Don Collins and Norm McAllister for their advocacy in the Vermont

Legislature, which approved the sale of the old state office building to Mylan and the construction of a new state office building in order for the garage to be economically feasible.

Without the support of Gov. Peter Shumlin the project simply would not have happened, said Gamache.

Shumlin called the garage opening a celebration of the “sheer grit” and innovation of the St. Albans community. He described the first time he heard of the project, when a group of leaders from St. Albans City came to his office and sat on couches purchased when Madeline Kunin was governor. “They sat way down. They sank,” said Shumlin.

Then they laid out a vision for revitalizing downtown St. Albans “with business thriving downtown, people living and working downtown and making it the heart of the community it once was,” said Shumlin.

Now that vision is a reality. “It’s going to mean jobs. It’s going to mean economic development,” said Shumlin.

“This parking garage is a symbol not only of our ability to come together and do things, but the progress we’re making in St. Albans City and Franklin County as a whole,” said McCarthy.

At the end of the ceremony, city public works director Allen Robtoy drove the first car into the garage – an electric car on loan from Handy Chevrolet.

Jim Hoag, who oversaw the construction for ReArch, said the garage was completed 27 days ahead of schedule, gaining the city an additional three weeks of parking revenue. It was also on budget.

Hoag said he appreciated the patience of the community, putting up with construction that began early, often went late and disrupted traffic.

“Last winter was a real big challenge,” said Hoag, having explained that the extreme cold making work difficult.

Also challenging was getting a 300-ton crane onto the site and assembled. The crane, which rose 230 feet into the air and was visible from I-89, was used to lower precast concrete slabs and columns into place. Each of those columns weighed 125 tons.

“I’m not happy to leave,” said Hoag, praising the efforts of engineer Peter Cross and city staff. “It’s a great end to a great project.”

The garage

The five-level garage has two glass-enclosed staircases and elevators, 265 spaces, two electric car-charging stations, and a walkway connecting it to the new state office building.

Surrounding the building are lights which match those installed last year along Main Street, including larger versions of the tops of the streetlights attached to the building itself.

A two-way driveway passes behind the building with curb cuts for access to the rear of buildings that face Main and Kingman streets. There is new landscaping along those buildings, as well, with designated locations for dumpsters.

Gamache attributed the beauty of the building to a public process in which the public and the Planning Commission, acting as the Design Advisory Board, provided input regarding the design. The idea for including the city logo in the building itself originated with planning commissioner David Barber. The logo adorns the concrete over both entrances to the building.

The garage will provide parking for the state office workers and the city is selling annual parking passes in the garage for $450. “They’re selling like hotcakes,” said city manager Dominic Cloud. The passes became available on Tuesday and by Thursday, 30 to 40 had been sold.

Parking in the garage is aimed at long-term parkers such as downtown business owners. The city hopes that moving their vehicles off the streets will free up spaces for downtown shoppers and restaurant patrons, explained Cloud.

Pre-paid parking cards also are available for the two downtown lots at the courthouse and behind city hall, with parking costing $1 per day or 12 cents per hour if parking for less than eight hours. The intent is to provide affordable, off-street parking for part-time employees of downtown businesses.

For the general public, parking in both the lots and the garage costs 50 cents per half hour with a five-hour limit. Free parking is available on Main Street and other downtown streets for 2.5 hours or less.