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Posted: March 25, 2015 Eau Claire OKs three-level parking ramp

By: Andrew Dowd, Leader-Telegram

A 570-stall downtown parking ramp fits Eau Claire's budget, but city leaders could consider adding another level to the project later this year while it is under construction.

In a 9-1 vote Tuesday, the City Council approved an $8.5 million contract with local construction firm Market & Johnson to build the three-deck parking ramp behind RCU and JAMF Software in the North Barstow Street area.

"If it brings more businesses and allows more people to come downtown - supporting new and existing businesses - then it serves its purpose," Councilman David Strobel said.

Councilwoman Monica Lewis cast the lone dissenting vote. She said the city had not yet secured contracts with RCU and JAMF for the 340 stalls the companies have said they'll lease in the ramp.

"If we won't even make sure we are guaranteed we'll have signed leases, I'm not going to support this at this time," she said.

An effort to make the construction project contingent on those agreements failed in a 7-3 vote.

The city has an option to add a fourth level to the ramp with 200 more parking stalls for $2.2 million, but it did not have the money available in its budget or plans for Tax Increment Financing District No. 8.

"If the council were to approve a ramp with four levels, we would have to do a budget amendment now," City Manager Russell Van Gompel said.

Currently, the city has $11.2 million appropriated for the ramp, which covers the $8.5 million construction cost for a three-deck structure and $1.5 million in land deals, consultant contracts and other related expenses.

The council still has the option of adding the fourth deck, but Van Gompel said that should wait until the city gets proposals for private development nearby. Taxes on new buildings in the North Barstow area go toward the ramp and other public investments in TIF No. 8 before they're scheduled to go toward regular city, school district, county and technical college taxes in 2030.

Van Gompel expects the city would revisit the ramp in June or July to decide if downtown TIF district plans can be modified and if updated development projections indicate the city could afford to add the additional parking level.

But making a decision Tuesday to at least build three levels meant the project would stay on schedule and show support for the area's continued redevelopment.

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