By Mayor Shelby Rognstad
This is the third piece in a six-part series discussing the Leland Report. The purpose of the report was to help guide the city of Sandpoint’s land use policy to support housing affordability and economic vitality. Last week I discussed the city’s utilities, water and wastewater infrastructure. This week I will discuss the city lot and its significance in supporting housing and economic development downtown.
For years the city has contemplated a public-private partnership, or PPP, to create a public parking garage on the city parking lot across from Jeff Jones Town Square on Oak Street. The lot currently parks 120 cars and is full most weekdays.
Having adequate parking downtown is critical if downtown Sandpoint is to remain a welcoming place for commercial and residential use. Eventually, the ITD lots west of Fifth Ave. will go away when ITD rebuilds the Highway 2 corridor as it passes through town. That will further increase pressure on our limited downtown parking resources.
Today, even with the ITD lots, the limited parking inhibits development in the downtown core. The city doesn’t have parking requirements downtown, yet developers recognize parking as a critical limiting factor for any new development. A parking garage, in a place like the city lot, can accommodate overflow parking for downtown businesses and customers. It would also provide parking to accommodate the development that occurs on site. It could also provide long-term or leased parking for neighboring commercial or residential users downtown.
As land becomes more scarce and increasingly valuable downtown, it makes less sense to dedicate it for surface parking. Addressing the parking shortage with a public garage will entice development downtown and likely result in development over many of the private lots we currently see downtown.
In addition to parking, through a PPP additional commercial space, residential space or other type of use could be developed that could benefit the overall economic vitality of downtown. For these reasons, the Leland Report recommended that the city, in partnership with the Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency (SURA), undertake a highest/best use analysis of the city lot and adjacent property and engage a PPP to develop the property to support public and private needs.
This process officially began on Nov. 16 when the city approved an agreement with SURA to partner on this project. The first steering committee meeting was held Dec. 8 to develop a request for qualifications (RFQ) to attract private development partners to the project. The city has retained Leland to guide this process. The city will also reach out to neighboring property owners to consider expanding the focus area for the project. Over the next several months, the committee will determine the highest and best use for the property and the appropriate amount of public parking for the project. Supporting an active commercial streetscape will be an essential component. Other downtown needs identified so far include workforce housing and a hotel.
There will be several tools available for financing the garage. The city recently completed a parking study for downtown Sandpoint. It provided a detailed analysis of parking assets, what current demands are and how well they are met with existing resources. A further study will be sought in the coming months that will help the city determine what additional resources will be needed given anticipated growth. It will also provide insight into how the city can manage parking resources and generate the revenue necessary to finance construction of a parking garage. Urban renewal dollars and grant funding are two other revenue sources that may come into play.
We are hopeful that we will have the RFQ out by summer and select a partner firm to lead this development project by next fall. Public investment into a downtown parking garage will result in more housing downtown, both long- and short-term. It will also result in additional commercial space. Together, these improvements will strengthen economic vitality and livability in downtown Sandpoint.
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