PRICEY PARKING SPOTS
Mayor proposes funding solution
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.