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Hagerstown officials mull parking deck options

November 15, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

Chamber makes its case for third parking deck in Hagerstown

Student parking considered

HAGERSTOWN -- Hagerstown's parking system, which includes two parking decks, currently pays for itself through user fees, but city Director of Finance Alfred E. Martin said building a third deck would be financially challenging.

Both the cash outlay for the operating cost -- about $427,000 this fiscal year -- and about $460,000 in debt service are paid with revenue from monthly parking permits, parking meters and parking fines from all parking facilities in the city, Martin said.

The city has outstanding debt on the North Potomac Street parking deck, the Arts and Entertainment parking deck on South Potomac Street lot and the Central lot, which was improved in the 1990s, Martin said.

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The North Potomac Street Parking deck, which was built in 1985, should be paid off in the 2011-12 fiscal year, he said. This year, the city will pay about $120,000 toward that debt, he said.

Hagerstown's parking fund has been self-supporting, and separate from the city's general fund since the late 1970s or early 1980s, Martin said.

In a presentation to the Hagerstown City Council on Nov. 3, Shelby Penn of the Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Task Force proposed that the city begin examining the feasibility of a third parking deck downtown.

The Columbia Bank, Hagerstown Trust Division, is willing to negotiate with the city to develop the parking lot behind its West Washington Street branch, according to documents provided by Penn.

A January 2008 informal survey of downtown businesses in the area indicated a demand for 842 spaces, Penn told the council. The North Potomac Street deck already offers 440 total spaces and the Arts and Entertainment deck has 185, according to Jason Rodgers, parking system supervisor.

In all, 1,770 spaces are available to the public downtown, Rodgers said.

A January 2009 survey by the Hagerstown Planning Department showed a demand for 2,290 spots in what is called the southwest quadrant of downtown, which runs from the south side of West Washington Street (U.S. 40) to the east side of South Potomac Street.

There are 311 existing spots in that area, and another 992 available in the two decks, Central Lot and Rochester Lot, leaving a need for 987 spots, according to the city survey.

Those with the largest demand for spaces included Washington County Circuit Court, at 278 spaces, and The Maryland Theatre, at 434 spaces, according to the survey.

Building and paying for new parking structures would pose a challenge, Martin said.

Although parking revenue from all sources enables parking facilities to be self-supporting, neither the North Potomac Street parking deck nor the Arts and Entertainment parking deck pays for itself, according to the city's budget.

The North Potomac Street deck brought in $262,050 in operating revenue in the 2008-09 fiscal year, and had $189,211 in operating expenses, which does not include paying off debt.

Parking meter fees are the city's largest source of revenue for the city's parking fund.

In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the two decks generated $331,350. Parking meter fees accounted for $404,300 in that fiscal year and parking fines brought in $168,416, the city's budget shows.

Calculating the cost

To build a new parking deck costs $20,000 to $25,000 per space, Martin said. Just to pay off the debt service over a 20-year period would cost $150 per space per month, based on a $20,000 per-space building estimate.

The city is able to charge only about $60 per month for a monthly parking pass to a deck, based on what people can afford and are willing to pay, he said.

Capital contributions from other sources, such as grants and private funding, are necessary to keep the debt service down, Martin said.

In the case of the Arts and Entertainment parking deck, about $1.5 million of the capital outlay came from other sources. The city financed about $2 million, Martin said.

"Decks are very expensive. We're going to have to be very creative with financing," Penn said.

The plan for a third deck remains preliminary, but she said she believes building owners downtown realize a deck in that quadrant would make their buildings more valuable.

Penn told the council on Nov. 3 that she would not return without county and private support for the approximate $25,000 cost of a feasibility study.

The Chamber's request for a parking deck is on the agenda for Tuesday's joint meeting with the Washington County Commissioners and Hagerstown City Council.

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