PRICEY PARK­ING SPOTS

Mayor pro­poses fund­ing so­lu­tion

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - DOUG SCH­MIDT dschmidt@postmedia.com

A re­duced — yet still hefty — tax­payer bill to con­vert commercial space in the Pelissier Street park­ing garage back into park­ing spots has re­newed calls to scrap the coun­cil plan.

“This is way more than orig­i­nally thought — to me, that should put the brakes on the whole project,” said Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bor­tolin.

Rep­re­sent­ing the down­town at city coun­cil, Bor­tolin said the pur­ported high cost of sal­vaging the ex­ist­ing ground-level commercial units was the chief ar­gu­ment of the coun­cil ma­jor­ity vot­ing to con­vert that space into 43 streetlevel park­ing spa­ces.

Orig­i­nally es­ti­mated to cost $507,000, the low­est bid among four ac­cepted ten­ders ear­lier this month was $888,000, with the other three com­ing in in ex­cess of $1 mil­lion. Ad­min­is­tra­tion was in­structed to work with the low bid­der, Te­cum­seh’s El­mara Con­struc­tion Co., to find ways to re­duce its price, with a ne­go­ti­ated new ten­der price of $723,500.

In a re­port go­ing to city coun­cil Aug. 8, the new over­all price, com­plete with en­gi­neer­ing and HST add-ons, to­tals $795,980.

“I’ll be push­ing for a re­con­sid­er­a­tion,” said Bor­tolin. He said tax­pay­ers will be shelling out more than $18,500 per park­ing spot at a time when the garage is “never” full and sur­round­ing sur­face park­ing lots run by pri­vate op­er­a­tors al­ways have avail­able spa­ces.

The city-owned garage has been a po­lit­i­cal hot potato for years. Last year, coun­cil voted to keep the commercial space, but then re­versed that de­ci­sion a few months later be­hind closed doors. That po­si­tion was re­con­firmed in a 7-4 vote after a pub­lic out­cry forced the is­sue to an open coun­cil ses­sion.

De­spite coun­cil’s back-and­forth, Ward 9 Coun. Hi­lary Payne said even the in­crease in con­ver­sion costs won’t per­suade him to change now. “I’m per­son­ally not go­ing back on that one, ever again — that horse has left the sta­ble.”

In its re­port, ad­min­is­tra­tion puts a lot of the blame for the higher-than-an­tic­i­pated price on a strong lo­cal econ­omy driv­ing up con­struc­tion costs. A big chunk of the sav­ings from the orig­i­nal ten­der will be through elim­i­na­tion of the sand­blast­ing to the un­der­side con­crete deck and walls, de­signed to pro­vide a more aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing ap­pear­ance ($130,000), as well as re­mov­ing a fast-track con­struc­tion sched­ule to ac­com­mo­date the fall open­ing of the Univer­sity of Wind­sor down­town cam­pus ($30,000).

Given the poor con­di­tion of the park­ing garage, Payne said the ground-floor con­ver­sion, de­spite the higher cost, is “not a good deal, but it’s the best deal” for the city.

“Any de­ci­sion can be re­con­sid­ered — we haven’t awarded the ten­der yet,” Mayor Drew Dilkens said. He said the city “tried to get re­tail for a decade and it didn’t work.”

Fund­ing for the con­ver­sion would come from $480,000 the city set aside in 2012 and 2014. Ad­min­is­tra­tion is rec­om­mend­ing the re­quired ad­di­tional $315,980 be taken out of an off-street park­ing re­serve fund that is cur­rently $1 mil­lion in the red. Rather than fur­ther in­creas­ing that deficit, Dilkens said he’ll be sug­gest­ing to coun­cil that the re­quired ex­tra funds be taken from a $7.2-mil­lion bud­get place­holder coun­cil ap­proved for a new park­ing garage across McDougall Av­enue from a new Catholic high school to be built on the site of the cur­rently moth­balled Wind­sor Arena.

Dilkens said it’s his hope that, by pro­vid­ing the ex­tra park­ing on Pelissier, as well as such mea­sures as work­ing out a park­ing deal with Cae­sars Wind­sor, there won’t be a need for that ad­di­tional park­ing garage. He said the new high school — to re­place Catholic Cen­tral — will re­quire up to 140 park­ing spa­ces (the park­ing lot at the for­mer Wind­sor Water World dis­ap­pears with the new school), and the Univer­sity of Wind­sor has “re­quested” 80 park­ing spots. The mayor added that there’s a wait­ing list for monthly park­ing spots at both the Pelissier and Goyeau park­ing garages.

Bor­tolin said his of­fer from last November still stands — din­ner for any mo­torist turned away from the Pelissier Street park­ing garage be­cause it’s full. He be­lieves fix­ing and pre­serv­ing the cur­rent commercial space, which suf­fers from leaks and mould, could be done for half a mil­lion dol­lars less in tax­payer funds, while main­tain­ing street-level re­tail as urged by down­town busi­nesses and ur­ban plan­ners. Down­town Wind­sor BIA chair­man Larry Hor­witz said his group is “look­ing for­ward” to the Aug. 8 meet­ing. He said the coun­cil ma­jor­ity’s de­ci­sion to get rid of the commercial space was “based on the cost — and now it’s dou­ble the (orig­i­nal) es­ti­mate.” Based on con­trac­tors’ quotes, including one from a com­pany that re­sponded to the city’s own ten­der, Hor­witz said he be­lieves the cost to fix the re­tail por­tion could be as lit­tle as $200,000.

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