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Published December 11 2010

Trade Talk: Does downtown Fargo have too much parking?

After The Forum posted the story on the design competition entries for the U.S. Bank Plaza released this week, some of our online readers had their own suggestions – a public square, a skating rink, a beer garden. But the very first commenter had a simpler request:

“I have a good idea,” the reader wrote. “How about a parking lot. They want people to come down town [sic] baby but there is never any place to park.”

In fact, the contest’s guidelines recommended designs incorporate accommodations for about 500 parked cars (and part of the current plaza is in fact a surface parking lot). But it’s not the first time I’ve heard the issue raised in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Paul Johnson, the Realtor working to lease out most of the first floor of Cityscapes Plaza on First Avenue, told me one concern he’s heard about the space is a perceived lack of nearby parking.

When people tell me Fargo has a parking problem, I can’t help but smile. My last stop was in Boston, where the closest thing we had to a parking lot was the freeway during rush hour, and an afternoon in a downtown ramp could easily set you back as much as a month in an underground spot around here. In college in Milwaukee a few years back, the first 20 minutes of most of my Saturday nights downtown were dedicated to cruising around for a parking spot. If Fargo has a parking problem, it’s one plenty of cities would love to have.

In fact, one downtown developer is convinced the city has the opposite problem: He told me downtown Fargo – and the Renaissance Zone in particular – has way too much surface parking. He argued overly abundant parking with hidden costs – it subsidizes the cost of driving at the expense of other businesses that could be using the space, and encourages a car-dependent mentality that fosters urban sprawl.

Building more surface parking downtown “would be like blowing up a wing of stores at West Acres so people could park right next to the shops,” the developer told me. “That’d be crazy.” In other words, downtown businesses can’t get into the habit of giving each customer their own personal driveway.

Of course, West Acres is surrounded by a sea of surface parking, but the point is well-taken: Free parking isn’t free, and may be unhealthy in excess for a vibrant downtown.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to leave a little early to stake out my spot. I don’t want to miss out on the beer garden.

El Azteca eyeing Timber Lodge site

The latest round of Fargo restaurateurs seem to be operating under a simple if quirky premise: If you liked steak, you’ll love burritos.

Last month, El Mezcal Mexican restaurant moved into the former North American Steak Buffet building at 2515 S. University Drive. Now, El Azteca, another Mexican establishment, is moving toward taking over the former Timber Lodge Steakhouse site at 1111 38th St. S.

The restaurant is registered to Sergio Aguirre of South Dakota, who owns and operates a handful of other Mexican restaurants in the Dakotas and Minnesota. He opened La Carreta in Jamestown, N.D., in February. Fargo’s liquor control board will review El Azteca’s application for a license next week.

You can also connect with Trade Talk online at www.tradetalk.areavoices.com

Readers can reach Forum business reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502