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Want to buy a parking garage?

July 31, 2013

PAWTUCKET — City officials are planning to formally issue a request for proposals (RFP) from private firms to redevelop and/or manage the downtown municipal parking garage and two adjacent parking lots.

The idea, talked about in recent years by Mayor Donald Grebien, city planning officials and others, has sparked some controversy in the past from downtown business owners and others who worried about the loss of parking for customers and employees. However, Grebien and city planners have maintained that the garage, which has been a target of petty crime and vandalism over the years, would be better maintained by a private entity.

The deadline to submit an RFP is Sept. 30. Proposals will be going to Pawtucket Planning and Redevelopment. Planning Director Barney Heath said the proposals will be reviewed by a team of city officials and any recommended plan would be put before the City Council for approval.

According to the RFP, the city seeks to sell, lease, or enter into an alternate arrangement with a private company to redevelop and/or manage the operations of the three-level parking garage and two adjacent parcels of land that are currently used as parking lots. Most of the parking is free to accommodate shoppers and visitors to the downtown, although there are a number of spaces that are leased for long-term use.

The property includes three contiguous parcels located in Pawtucket's downtown on Main Street and Park Place. The garage and lots are currently used for parking by the general public, merchants, customers, visitors and the Pawtucket School Department.

The property at 274 Main St. holds 0.69 acres, a three-story parking garage and four vacant storefronts. There are a total of 143 parking spaces on this parcel and seven surface lot spaces.

The garage itself, which has access on Park Place, is described in the RFP as being structurally sound, in good condition, with newly installed lighting and pedestrian stairway access.

The storefront building, located at street level on Main Street, has a total level of approximately 2,000 square feet. The four storefronts are vacant and need renovations.

Of the two other city-owned properties, one comprises 0.34 acres and the other comprises 0.69 acres, and both currently serve as surface parking lots.

Planning Director Barney Heath acknowledged that the RFP does not contain any specific language dictating that a new owner must maintain a certain amount of parking for downtown visitors or employees. However, he noted that any proposal, in order to be considered, would be subject to all regulations and would also have to pass muster with the City Council.

“We kept it wide open. We didn't want to have anything going into this process that would prevent people from thinking creatively,” said Heath. Noting that the parcels are in a strategic downtown location, he added, “We want people to think creatively.”

The RFP notes that by offering these key parcels for development, the city hopes to receive proposals which will bring economic development and job creation to the site, and will embrace urban design principals consistent with the city's established Downtown Design Standards.

Also part of the consideration is a financial benefit to the city (from lease, acquisition, tax or other uses), and benefits to the community from improvements in the public infrastructure, public use and other amenities.

The RFP also states that the city is willing to enter into a “public/private partnership” to work with any potential entity, including specific incentives and assistance, depending on the quality of the proposed project. These may include local technical and financial assistance, waivers of local permit fees, and phased tax stabilization for up to five years.

The property is zoned Commercial Downtown (CD), and the RFP notes that the garage structure is two stories high, but could potentially gain two additional stories, by right. It is stated that the city “envisions maintaining parking on this property while promoting its 'highest and best' economic development in keeping with the CD zoning district.”

At a community meeting held last year by Mayor Donald Grebien to discuss issues pertaining to the downtown, several people expressed concern about the conditions of the parking garage and urged city officials to make improvements that would make it safer and more inviting. At the time, some local merchants had also voiced objections to the idea of private ownership.

However, Robert Plouffe, owner of Plouffe's Cup and Saucer restaurant on Main Street, said he doesn't have any particular objection to the idea of a private firm taking over, depending on the proposal. He said there are others in the city who are more concerned than he is about the parking garage and a potential loss of free parking that could result if it is sold. However, he said he has also grown frustrated by the lack of attention paid to the garage, by both past and current city administrations, and wants to see more done to improve the lighting and security.

Aaron Hertzberg, executive director of The Pawtucket Foundation, said he realizes that merchants and businesses are concerned about the availability of parking in the downtown. Yet, he said he is also aware that the city thinks a private firm would better manage the parking garage.

Hertzberg said he is keeping an open mind about the RFP process. He said he would be interested in a a proposal that offers the chance to retain existing activity and bring revitalization to that section of downtown, which is acknowledged as being underutilized.

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