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Saratoga Springs City Council Approves Parking Structure

A parking sign
Lucas Willard

The City Council in Saratoga Springs has approved a new downtown parking garage. The structure has been the subject of discussion in the Spa City for decades.

By a unanimous vote, the Saratoga Springs City Council ended years of debate over a downtown parking structure. The garage will serve the publicly-owned Saratoga Springs City Center.

Mayor Meg Kelly, a Democrat, called for the vote.

“Tonight is really a historic night here to help the City Center and help the downtown of Saratoga Springs. That’s all I’m gonna say. I want to take this vote because it needs to happen,” said Kelly.

The 600-space, multi-story structure, along with a lease agreement with the City Center Authority, were both approved for the city-owned lot that currently has about 220 spaces.

Previous proposals for the structure have been tied up with lawsuits, and arguments have persisted for decades. Mayor Kelly said records show the city council was discussing a downtown garage as far back as 1992.

Attorney Matthew Jones, development counsel for and former member of the City Center Authority, recalled serving on a task force to explore parking options in 1980.

“The six of us jumped in a car and drove to Utica in May of 1980 to get an understanding of what a municipal garage would be like and what it would cost and what the upkeep was, because we were being told in order to build a convention center you needed a garage to go with it,” said Jones.

But the group argued all the way home. And in the four decades since, downtown parking has become a premium.

A public hearing for the parking structure Tuesday night was the second for this project in particular. Some community residents voiced their objections.

Art Holmberg, Chair of the group Sustainable Saratoga, prefaced his comments by saying the organization has never opposed the concept of a City Center parking structure. The group has offered comments over the last six years.

“The structure is not set back a minimum of 50 feet from the street-property line, or a public right-of-way line. The street level first floor uses are not civic or commercial spaces that are intended to create vibrant streetscapes. The pedestrian bridge over Maple Avenue counters Smart Growth principles that strive to keep pedestrians at the street level. And finally, very few green infrastructure elements have been included in this project. What a missed opportunity,” said Holmberg.

City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis responded to some objections that the project had been rushed through the city council.

‘The City Council has long resolved that the fiscal viability, the operation, and the growth of the City Center is to the benefit of all of the citizens of Saratoga Springs. And I also want to recollect that the Comprehensive Plan itself expressly provides that the City and the Authority are to work cooperatively to ‘ensure there is adequate parking to enable the City Center to continue to attract meetings, weddings, and conventions to our downtown.’

“I also want to remind both the council and the public, that while there have been numerous iterations of proposed parking facilities over the years, and quite frankly, over the decades, this most recent proposal was first developed as part of a concept plan with a committee established by the mayor, and was first presented to the public more than a year ago,” said DeLeonardis.

The lease agreement agreed upon Tuesday night initially runs for 12 years.

“After which, the lease will be extended to coincide with any extension of the City Center lease, or for a period of 25 years. The city will be provided with 60 spaces, and also will enjoy any excess cash revenue,” said DeLeonardis.

Details of how much the City Center plans to charge for use of the garage have yet to be decided.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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