SARATOGA SPRINGS — After five years of sometimes-spirited public debate and numerous changes, the planned Saratoga Springs City Center parking garage is expected to break ground this fall.
Plans for a scaled-back four-story, 600-space garage on Maple Avenue opposite the City Center are getting what is expected to be final reviews this week from the City Council, Design Review Commission and Planning Board, with backers hoping to break ground on the $12 million project by October, if not sooner.
The garage will be built at the northern end of what is now a 188-space city-owned surface parking lot, built on the hillside between High Rock Avenue and Maple Avenue. A see-through elevated walkway over Maple Avenue will link the upper level of the parking garage and the City Center.
City Center officials have long said that the center needs more parking to accommodate the convention-goers who are its livelihood — and there's no disagreement that downtown Saratoga has a parking shortage. But the original 2014 plan for what critics called a "massive" five-story garage for 750 cars ran into controversy.
"We've come a long ways in the last five years," City Center Authority board Chairman Thomas Roohan told the City Council during a presentation Tuesday.
The original plan was met with concerns from residents who feared a giant blocky building would dominate the landscape and deaden street life, and some people wanted to see mixed-use development included in the plans. The neighboring Mouzon House restaurant brought lawsuits to stop the project.
In 2018, Mayor Meg Kelly appointed a committee of residents, business interests and advocacy groups to develop a new plan, and their work, with modifications, is the basis for the construction project that is about to start. The parking garage is the first phase of a plan that could include green space, a small park and room for potential commercial development on other parts of the site. Design work has been done by The LA Group, a local landscape architecture firm.
The east side of the garage will be set back 35 feet from High Rock Avenue, to allow for construction of the Saratoga Greenbelt Downtown Connector, a bike and pedestrian path along Excelsior Avenue and High Rock that is getting close to construction.
"I think you've done a very admirable job of fulfilling your mission and benefiting both the city and the City Center," Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
The City Center Authority, which will be financing the project, has retained construction firm Bette & Cring of Latham as designer/builder.
The garage will take between nine and 12 months to build, estimated C. Michael Ingersoll, a principal in The LA Group. It's possible, he said, that some of the new parking will be available in time for the 2020 summer tourism season, when demand for downtown parking is at its highest.
But even this winter, Ingersoll acknowledged there may be parking shortage issues because of the construction talking the current parking lot out of service.
But City Center officials noted that the center hosts conferences and other events throughout the year, and there is year-round need for nearby parking, even midweek. They also note that having adjacent covered parking will help it remain competitive for convention business.
"And then there's all the activity around us," Roohan said. "With all the activities on weekends, it's tough — and we're in a competitive environment."
The City Center is expected to charge for parking longer than one or two hours in the garage, but details have yet to be decided.