LACONIA — The city parking garage, called both an eyesore and a potential booster to downtown's growth, is estimated to cost more than $6 million to rehabilitate. That project could be paid for through the city's economic development, and would provide parking for another two decades, City Council learned on Monday night.
Extensive reconstruction of the largely under-used and deteriorating structure received an initial green light Monday.
The City Council unanimously directed City Manager Scott Myers to prepare an outline for the engineering, construction and financing of the multimillion-dollar project which Mayor Andrew Hosmer called critical to supporting the economic revitalization of downtown.
Hosmer, who called the garage in its current state "an albatross and an eyesore," and several councilors said the rehabilitation of the facility was urgently needed.
“We need to move quickly,” City Councillor Bruce Cheney said.
“We need to take a vote and fix it,” concurred Councilor Bob Hamel, who chairs the council’s Lands and Building Committee.
The deteriorating condition of the 48-year-old parking structure has resulted in much of the garage becoming unusable in recent years. About 140 of the 250 spaces, including all those on the top level, have been closed off for safety reasons.
Myers characterized the repairs the city has made to the structure in recent years as stop-gap measures.
“These Band-Aids are big Band-Aids which have become tourniquets,” he said.
A 2019 engineering study estimated it would cost $4.5 million to correct the structural deficiencies as well make the facility safer and more accessible for users. Myers now estimates the job could cost about $6.6 million, he told the council.
He said the growing tax base in the downtown area alone would provide the city with added revenue which would offset the cost of the project. He estimated that with reconstruction, along with regular preventive maintenance should give a lifespan of 20 to 25 years for the refurbished facility.
The council’s decision came following a public hearing during which everyone spoke in favor of the project.
“We need the spaces that are in the garage and it is the only place that has parking spaces that are covered,” Bob Sawyer, who owns a business block on Canal Street, said.
By its action Monday, the council did not commit to spending any money on the project. But Councilor Robert Soucy said he hoped the council will approve the funding soon to take advantage of the low interest rates currently available on municipal bonds.
According to the New Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank, in the latest bond sale in July, interest rates ranged from 0.96 percent on a 10-year loan, to 2.01 percent on a 25-year loan.