The new parking garage in downtown Worcester will be opening soon and will mark the completion of a significant portion of the city’s $570 million CitySquare project.
According to the quarterly Economic Development Initiatives Detail Report filed by the Executive Office of Economic Development to the City Council on Thursday, March 3, the 550-space CitySquare underground parking garage is nearly finished and a portion of the garage will be open to the public in early 2016, as soon as April according to sources.
The portion of the garage that will be open first is bounded by Eaton Place [the St. Vincent Hospital cancer center] and Front and Mercantile streets. This includes 340 of the 550 parking spots.
Garage space underneath the planned $33.1 million, 168-room AC hotel in CitySquare will remain closed while the hotel is being constructed. Construction on the hotel is set to begin this spring, according to the report.
On Tuesday evening, March 8, Michael E. Traynor, chief development officer of the Executive Office of Economic Development, will present the report to the City Council along with development updates on Gateway Park, Union Station, the Blackstone Canal and the former Worcester County Courthouse, among others.
“While I agree with the walkable city concept, where we expect people to drive into our city or get from one side of our city to the other, we need a parkable city,” City Councilor-at-large and member of the standing committee on Traffic and Parking Michael T. Gaffney said in an email.
“Without parking, visitors won’t have a place to park, so they won’t get out of their cars to walk around. If they don’t get out of their cars, businesses won’t have customers.”
Gaffney said that a full parking plan for all of downtown is needed to meet the needs of the city, because state and city requirements have reduced the amount of parking significantly.
“Considering that the downtown area is part of the parking overlay, meaning that requirements for businesses to provide parking have been reduced, and that the state funds for rehabilitating the streets, lights, and sidewalks downtown requires the installation of a bike lane, further eliminating parking spaces, we must have a parking plan for downtown,” Gaffney said.
District 3 Councilor and member of the Economic Development standing committee George J. Russell said, “Obviously that parking garage should make it easier to develop downtown and make it easier for businesses to move into that CitySquare area.”
“The more parking you have in any downtown area the better,” Russell added.
According to city spokesman John Hill the prices for parking in the garage have yet to be set, but will be determined by the off-street parking board, which will next meet Monday, March 14.
Other downtown parking garages charge $2 for up to an hour of parking, and $3 for one to two hours. Daily rates range from $7.75 to $9.50.
The final prices will include a surcharge, authorized by the City Council in September, “the proceeds of which will support downtown public safety initiatives and programming,” Hill said in an email.
City Council last fall authorized proposed legislation from City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. that would apply a surcharge to users of the CitySquare garage.
At the Sept. 1 City Council meeting, Augustus said the surcharges would not apply to any existing parking garages downtown, only the new CitySquare garage.
The surcharges will go toward the Worcester Common Environs Programming and Maintenance Revolving Fund, which was approved unanimously by the City Council on Sept. 1.
Some of the money from the fund will go toward city Common programs, including its weekly Out to Lunch concert series, the Common Oval ice skating rink, continued police foot patrols and security measures, and other public events.
According to state law, funds from the parking surcharge at the new underground parking garage will also be used to maintain the physical infrastructure of the Worcester Common and go toward any repairs needed on the Common.
The amount of the surcharge will be set by the off-street parking board. According to state law, “The board may establish different surcharge rates based upon the length of time a vehicle is parked, whether the vehicle holds a monthly parking pass or is a daily transient parker or upon such other criteria as the board deems reasonable.”
At the Sept. 1 meeting, Augustus said the parking surcharges are “part of the strategy to help stimulate the downtown economy and put [feet on the street].”
Russell points to the hotel being built above the garage, along with the hotels being built on Grove Street and at Washington Square, as a better sign of progress than just the need for a large parking garage.
“It says enough about Worcester’s growth and potential that the demand for those hotel rooms and add-on incentives allow as much business as possible for economic spinoff and long-term jobs for Worcester residents,” Russell said.
According to Augustus, the parking garage surcharges will contribute to be a revenue stream that will allow longevity to current programs at the Common and support new programs on the Common in the future.
“By using a new garage … this gives us the opportunity to have … a lot of people who are going to be coming from out of town using this garage to help contribute to the cost of making sure that downtown Worcester is safe and attractive and has activities that support our local businesses,” the city manager said.