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Erik Burgess, Published February 27 2014

Fargo parking board to consider new downtown ramp Friday

FARGO – The city’s parking board could take the first step Friday toward building a new parking ramp downtown.

Fargo’s Parking Commission meets Friday morning to consider finding an architect to study where to put a new ramp downtown and how much it would cost.

Some city officials have recently been clamoring for a new downtown ramp because construction of a new City Hall and floodwall will soon eliminate hundreds of public spaces at a time when demand for long-term downtown parking is already high.

Mayor Dennis Walaker has expressed some concerns about the high cost of parking ramps. They typically run about $20,000 per spot, and Planning Director Jim Gilmour has said three 400-car ramps are needed to meet current demands and future growth.

The Island Park ramp is the last city ramp built downtown. It opened in 2002 and cost $4.5 million. It won’t be fully paid off until May 1, 2015.

There are some options an architect could vet for a new ramp downtown, Gilmour said.

Another deck of parking could be added on top of the Civic Center ramp, which is attached to the Radisson Hotel, he said. The cost and how construction would affect the rest of the ramp needs to be studied, he said.

The city also owns about half of the surface parking lot on NP Avenue between Old Broadway and Renaissance Hall, Gilmour said.

“Most of our parking demand, though, is two blocks north,” he said. “But maybe better there than nothing.”

The city is also still in talks with downtown developers at Kilbourne Group about when a parking ramp might be feasible for the U.S. Bank plaza, Gilmour said.

The Parking Commission today will consider approving staff to draft a request for proposal to retain an architect to look at the feasibility of all these options and more.

In the meantime, the Parking Commission has explored other ways to alleviate the high demand for long-term parking downtown.

Last month, the commission directed its Downtown Parking Task Force to consider changing most 90-minute on-street parking zones east of Fifth Street North to four-hour zones.

The task force is open to those changes, but it first wants to see a parking framework plan drawn up for the entire downtown area, said Joe Nigg, a city planner.

Instead of pushing forward with those four-hour zones east of Fifth Street, the city will likely now take a step back and develop a downtown parking plan, Nigg said. That planning could take until April to complete, he said.

The Parking Commission could also consider eliminating hourly parking from four city-owned ramps or lots – the Ground Transportation Center ramp, the lot on the south side of Second Avenue, the Civic Center ramp and the NP Avenue lot.

This would help address the need for more monthly rental parking, and the city would actually make more money in four of those lots by making this switch, Gilmour said.

The city would save about $22,500 a year at each of those lots by not employing parking attendants, although they would likely keep an attendant at the Civic ramp, Gilmour said.

He said the city needs to consider a transition to “pay and display” parking like what is used on the North Dakota State University campus, where drivers pay for a ticket at an automated machine and display the ticket on their dashboard.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518