The Saratoga Springs City Council is open to new ideas for how to build a large parking garage on the High Rock Avenue site where the City Center wants to build one.
A just-released request for proposals asks private developers to submit their detailed ideas for mixed-use development of a parking structure by Sept. 29, with an advisory committee and the City Council to then review them and make decisions. The city won’t be obligated to accept any proposals it receives.
With city officials unsure whether they’ll get any proposals at all, the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority is expected to keep pursuing its plans for a single-use five-story parking deck on the site through the city planning and design review process while the city waits for other ideas.
The City Center plan has attracted a lot of criticism over the three years since it was first proposed, much of it from people who feel that a mixed-use structure would be more in keeping with how they would like to see the city evolve.
Three of the five City Council members have said they want the City Center plan to go forward, and they recently voted to change a provision of the city’s solar ordinance that was blocking the garage because of the shadow it would cast on solar panels at the neighboring Mouzon House restaurant. That change is allowing the City Center to resume pursuing its plans.
The owners of the Mouzon House oppose the City Center proposal, but one of the owners, Denise Desmond, said they would support a mixed-use garage with retail space included because it would bring people into the area for purposes other than parking.
City Center officials, with the support of most of the downtown merchant community, contend the parking garage is needed for the sake of City Center events, as well as in general because of the demand for parking spaces downtown.
Public Safety Commission Chris Mathiesen said the RFP for private development of the 2.6-acre city-owned site is asking developers to provide at least 600 parking spaces to meet the demands of the downtown and the City Center, and also to include other uses. “To contain it all on one lot is a really big challenge,” Mathiesen said at last week’s City Council meeting.
The land now contains 279 spaces in surface parking lots built into the side of a hill, used by city officials, City Center patrons and the public during the day, and then used by patrons of the Caroline Street bar district at night.
The request for proposals says at least 600 spaces should be provided, with retail, restaurant, office or civic uses on the first floor. A covered pedestrian bridge to the City Center is designed, but not mandated, though developers are asked to talk to City Center officials about their needs. Developers must also specify whether they will charge for parking.
Accounts Commissioner John Franck said he has doubts whether any developer will respond to the request.
A new citizen group, Citizens for High Rock, was formed this spring to push for a mixed-use development, and brought a Syracuse developer to a meeting in June to talk about mixed-use projects that have been done elsewhere.
Sealed bids for a mixed-use garage will be due by 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the city accounts office. Either lease or purchase of the property is possible under the terms of the request.