The Gilbert Town Council has approved initial plans for a second parking garage for its downtown Heritage District, a trendy dining spot.
Gilbert’s trendy dining district could soon offer a second parking garage with valet service and street upgrades that would make it easier to snag a taxi or ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft.
The Town Council took initial steps last week to add an $18 million parking structure to the Heritage District as early as spring 2019.
A formal design won’t be approved until later this year, but early recommendations call for a five-story garage with up to 600 spots on the east side of Gilbert Road near Vaughn Avenue, behind two prominent planned restaurants — The Yard and O.H.S.O. Brewery — which are planned to open in the coming years.
The garage would likely look similar to the existing parking structure that opened in 2014 at Vaughn Avenue and Ash Street, but with a few notable upgrades. According to staff recommendations, the structure will be taller, the lanes will be wider and the top floor will include security features to prevent teens from loitering — an issue that plagues the original garage. Town staff is considering valet parking in a portion of the new garage.
Gilbert Councilman Eddie Cook said a new parking garage is essential to future development in the Heritage District, because it will allow the town to get rid of some of the downtown’s temporary lots and offer that space to new businesses.
“I’m not saying this is a domino effect, but it does play a key role in the development of our downtown,” Cook said.
The council approved spending $1.3 million for the design of the structure. The final design and a construction contract will come before council later this year. If approved, construction could begin as early as March.
Parking welcome, taxpayer cost scorned
Gilbert resident Megan Crowley lives 10-15 minutes from the Heritage District and she frequents it often, usually on Friday or Saturday nights for the bars and restaurants or during the day on Saturdays for the Farmer’s Market.
Decent parking is tough to find during peak weekend evening hours, Crowley said. She’s never not been able to find a spot, but “I have walked further than I wanted to,” she said.
There are currently more than 2,000 parking spots in the Heritage District, according to town documents. The existing parking structure contains 364 spots and the rest are in town-owned lots around the district.
A 2015 study recommended the town add 942 parking spaces in two additional garages to accommodate future demand.
Crowley said she’d favor another parking garage. “As long as it’s not like a total eyesore, I feel like it’s something that that area needs,” she said.
Mayor Jenn Daniels agreed. She said adding additional parking is essential to continued growth.
“I think it’s needed and I think that we will be able to support our downtown businesses — those that are there and those that are to come — by having access to parking,” Daniels said.
But a pair of councilmen questioned the high-dollar price tag and necessity of a new garage.
The town would likely pay cash for the structure, using $15.75 million from the general fund and $2.75 million from planned land sales in the Heritage District, Budget and Management Director Kelly Pfost said.
“The bottom line is that until I see a report that shows that there’s a net (return on investment) on all of the taxpayer investments in the downtown, I’m going to go with my gut that says that it’s a major loss for the taxpayers,” Vice Mayor Victor Petersen said.
Councilman Jared Taylor suggested downtown businesses should put some “skin in the game.”
“Is it all on the taxpayers? What are the businesses doing to contribute? They’re certainly getting a huge benefit from this,” Taylor said.
Petersen and Taylor were the only dissenting votes on moving forward with parking structure design.
Street and walkway improvements
Beyond parking, the council will consider making significant upgrades to the streets and walkways around the Gilbert Road and Vaughn Avenue intersection.
Henderson said this project is necessary regardless of the parking garage to “optimize efficient traffic flow.”
The intersection has become increasingly busy with the addition of Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row on the southeast corner, and will continue to bustle when The Yard and O.H.S.O. Brewery open.
Some of the proposed improvements include a new median to assist pedestrians when crossing Gilbert Road, better access for emergency vehicles and added access for taxis, Uber and Lyft, Henderson said.
Hearne Way — a dead-end street just north of the intersection, which would back up to the new parking garage — could also be revamped to include additional shade and sitting areas in addition to the one-way street. The redesign would allow for “place making” and better pedestrian access, Heritage District Liaison Amanda Elliott said.
“How do you provide places for people to congregate and sit? We like to think of the Heritage District as the community living room,” Elliott said.
The council will vote on the project next month, Elliott said.
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