Parking problems

Finding a place to park downtown could get interesting this summer.

Contractors are expected to begin building a housing-retail complex and parking ramp on the city-owned parking lot west of Wells Fargo and south of the former Midwest Federal Building on May 1. On Aug. 1, work is expected to start on a similar project in the parking lot north of US Bank.

Those two projects will take away 267 of the Minot Parking Authority’s 383 downtown spaces, with no ramps to replace them for several months.

Curt Clark, chairman of the parking authority, said the authority will be looking for alternative parking. The authority hopes to find alternatives through different use of street parking and through arrangements with downtown businesses and organizations that may have extra spaces.

Complicating the situation, however, will be a major downtown infrastructure rehabilitation project that will be tearing up streets for underground work.

Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said the city might be able to help with its parking lot at the Municipal Auditorium and by changing the two-hour limit on street parking downtown. Like Clark, he said there will need to be flexibility with downtown businesses to find room for everyone for a while.

As it stands now, the existing five public lots downtown basically are leased to capacity and could use more spaces. The parking authority already over-sells so a day-time worker and a night-time resident can share a space.

“We have been pretty near capacity for probably the last couple of years,” Clark said.

Prior to that time there was talk about a shortage of downtown parking, but the greater problem was one of parking location rather than capacity, he said. Parking was available if people were willing to walk a ways to their destinations.

Clark said the tight parking is compounded with the sale of the 43-space lot on Main Street and Central Avenue to Artspace and with increased demand due to the 22 downtown apartments being added by IRET. The Artspace housing and retail project will include on-site parking when it is finished.

The parking ramps are expected to add nearly double the parking spaces that they are eliminating. The ramps will serve both the new residential developments and provide public parking serving new and existing retail and offices.

Details of how the ramps will operate haven’t been determined yet. Clark said it is unlikely that the parking authority will have a role in the operation.

Although the city will own the ramps, it isn’t interested in hands-on management, Zimbelman said. At the airport, the city contracts for parking management, which is one option for the downtown ramps.

At this time, the city has no idea what the parking fees might be in the new ramps, nor is it clear who would set those fees. Zimbelman said the city will want to maintain some say, however.

The cost of the construction could require higher parking fees, although income also will increase with more spaces to lease. Currently, the parking authority charges $37.50 a month for space in its gated lots and $25 a month for space in an ungated lot. Those rates haven’t changed for years.

The Imagine Minot project initiated by Cypress Development of Portland for the downtown has a five-year plan to build on all the city-owned parking lots downtown, creating residential and retail activity with parking incorporated into the design. Should that happen, the Minot Parking Authority may be no more.

Clark said the city owns four parking lots. The authority owns 44 spaces in a lot near the old YMCA building, now owned by Eid Passport.

Continuing the parking authority just for the operation of that one lot might not be practical, Clark said. It may happen that the parking authority eventually will sell its lone lot and disband, he said.

The parking authority previously sold the Citizens’ Garage and a lot near I. Keatings. The school district acquired another former public parking lot on Second Street Southeast. Most recently, Artspace purchased a lot.

If the parking authority disbands, the city likely would absorb the assets, Clark said. As of Sept. 30, 2012, the parking authority had net assets of $459,064, of which $281,179 was cash on hand.

Clark said the cash reserves largely come from lot sales. The parking operation itself generates adequate lease income to cover expenses, he said. The parking authority has authorization to ticket parking violators, but all fines go to the city.

Earlier this month, the Minot City Council acted on the recommendation of its Airport Committee and voted to leave the weekly maximum parking fee at the airport at $40.

Airport director Andrew Solsvig said an increase to $60 a week was proposed as a means of increasing revenue but also to influence people to consider other parking options, thus easing congestion at the airport.

Visitors still might pay more if they leave their vehicles at the airport very long-term. The council eliminated a monthly fee of $90, which means that after Feb. 1, long-term visitors will pay only on the weekly fee schedule.

The daily parking fee is $10, which was increased from $8 last summer. The airport provides the first 15 minutes of parking free. The rate for the next 45 minutes and for each additional half hour is $1.