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Mon, Jan. 27

Council leans toward parking garage

PRESCOTT – A parking garage that would involve 425 public parking spaces, as well as 52 apartments and about 6,000 square feet of new retail space, got the nod from a majority of the Prescott City Council this week.

Although the council members did not take a vote during their Tuesday workshop, most strongly leaned toward the parking garage plan that M3 Companies, a local development firm, proposed.

City officials expect to hear a formal presentation from M3 next Tuesday. The council likely will make its final decision on the garage in about three or four weeks, after city staffers come up with an agreement and a garage management plan with the developers.

That would set in motion a process that could have the engineering work for the garage complete in about two months, and a garage in place at its Granite Street site by summer or fall of 2001.

After weeks of reviewing the 12 proposals from six development companies, a seven-member advisory committee recommended two plans to the council: M3's, and a proposal from the Linthicum company.

The two recommendations gave the council a clear choice: M3's mixed-use plan that included a number of upgrades such as a brick facade, awnings and landscaping, and Linthicum's more bare-bones plan, which involved a standard-structure parking deck.

It didn't take the council long to eliminate the Linthicum proposal from consideration. In a discussion that lasted about a half-hour, the majority of council members indicated they favored the M3 proposal, even though it was more expensive.

While the Linthicum plan came in at the lowest cost of all 12 proposals at less than $3 million, the M3 plan would cost about $4 million. That does not include the cost of the apartments and retail space, which the developers would pay for themselves. M3 officials say they plan to spend about $6.5 million of private money to do those improvements.

At the beginning of Tuesday's workshop, City Manager Larry Asaro pointed out that although the advisory committee recommended two proposals to the council, it favored the M3 plan.

According to Asaro, the Linthicum plan – although it met the city's requirements for parking spaces at 462 – did not meet the other criteria that the council established at the start of the proposal process. For instance, he said, the criteria suggested the parking garage should be a "light and airy" landmark Prescott building.

"The (M3) proposal is a little bit more costly, but it came much closer to meeting the criteria," Asaro said. "If we're going to spend $3 million to $4 million, I would favor going toward the more exciting, mixed use."

Bill Brownlee of M3 noted that because of the economic development potential under M3's proposal, the cost gap between the two recommended proposals "narrows significantly."

Under the terms of M3's proposal, the city would pay off the cost of the garage over 20 years, at about $330,000 per year. The city would retain ownership of about three-fourths of the one-acre lot on Granite Street, while M3 would own a quarter-acre portion.

Council members had a number of questions about the proposal. For instance, several questioned whether the city should dedicate the quarter-acre of land to M3 for $1, as the proposal stipulates.

Mayor Sam Steiger suggested that the upcoming negotiations should come up with a "fair value" for the land.

And two council members, Robert Behnke and Dick Cooper, maintained that the city should look closer at the less expensive Linthicum proposal.

"We're talking about a $1 million difference, and that's a lot of money," Behnke said. He and Cooper maintained that the council should at least hear a presentation from Linthicum.

But other council members said asking Linthicum back for a presentation would just be an attempt to appear to be fair, when the council members already appeared to have their minds made up for M3.

"It seems as though the majority is leaning toward M3," Councilman Tom Reilly said. "I would hate to put somebody through the hoops just for cosmetic reasons."

Sanford Cohen, who worked for years with the Downtown District Inc., to get a parking garage built downtown, expressed satisfaction with the direction the council was heading with the garage.

"I certainly never would have thought six years ago that we would end up with a facility that could trigger the development and redevelopment of the downtown," Cohen said after the meeting. "It is very exciting to see the proposal add more full-time residents downtown. We support it wholeheartedly."

Greg Fister, economic development coordinator for the city, said a number of issues still need resolution concerning the M3 proposal, such as the water allocation for the apartments, city zoning that would allow for 52 units on one acre, and a waiver of the city's 50-foot height restriction.

M3's five-story building would be about 58 feet high, Fister said.

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