LACONIA — The city’s much-criticized parking garage building today is today both an omen of a downtown renaissance and evidence of its unsettled past.
All the commercial spaces on the ground level of the three-story structure are leased for the first time in recent memory.
At the same time, the city finds itself where it now needs to decide how to address the problems posed by the building’s deteriorating state of repair.
The City Council will take up the matter of what to do with the facility that was constructed during the major downtown redevelopment during the early 1970s under Urban Renewal.
The council is expected to take up the matter on Monday at the request of City Councilor Bob Hamel, who chairs the council’s Land and Buildings Committee.
The city owns the second and third levels of the structure, while the land and commercial space under the parking garage are owned by 5623 Real Estate LLC, a private firm.
Over the years maintenance of the parking facility has become a growing expense for the city as it fell into disrepair.
The city spent more than $100,000 in 2015 to pay for emergency repairs and have a condition assessment done on the structure, according to a report prepared for the council by City Public Works Director Wes Anderson. Since 2017, it has spent a total of $135,000 on annual safety inspections and temporary repairs.
“We’ve been spending money to Band-Aid it,” City Manager Scott Myers said Thursday.
In recent years the council has debated a number of options, including renovating the structure or tearing it down.
Anderson’s report puts the cost of rehabbing at more than $4.5 million. The cost to demolish it, on the other hand, is estimated at $2 million.
Two years ago, Anderson told the council it would cost $10.8 million to build a new garage, not including the cost of deconstructing the old one. Myers said the cost of a new facility would amount to between $30,000 and $35,000 per parking space.
The second deck of the parking garage also acts as the roof for the buildings under the garage. Parking is allowed on most of the second deck, though there are areas which are blocked off due to structural weakness. The entire third deck has been closed off for several years due to structural problems.
The garage is especially prone to deterioration because its structural steel is exposed to weather. In addition, the water on the decks and salt brought in by vehicles over the winter have corroded both the structural steel and the steel deck panels, according to Anderson.
That the council is poised to take up the parking garage issue is a good sign. It shows that the demand for parking in the downtown area is increasing, according to Brandon Borghi, whose family owns the first level of the building and who manages the real estate for 5623 Real Estate.
“We have a good problem. People want to come here now,” Borghi said.
The last vacant space on the ground floor was just leased to someone who will be opening a juice bar. Filled, there will be six businesses on the street level, including Fit Focus, which Borghi manages.
He is hoping the city decides to make the necessary upgrades so the parking garage can once again be fully functional.
Borghi’s family brought the 28,5000-square-foot, ground-floor structure five years ago. Since then they have spent money on a new air-conditioning system, as well as improved lighting on the premises. More improvements are planned in the coming months, he said.
Borghi and Myers agree that another parking challenge that needs to be addressed is the issue of whether to charge for parking.
Borghi said charging “a bit” for parking in the garage makes sense.
Myers said the city needs to take a comprehensive look at the parking situation, including the issue of whether to charge for it.
“How do you charge for parking in a garage if you don’t charge for street parking?” he wondered. “Where’s the incentive for people to use the garage then?”