2017-02-07 / Front Page

Biddeford step closer to parking garage

Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — A parking garage in downtown Biddeford may no longer be a pipe dream, according to city officials.

The city’s Downtown Task Force Subcommittee announced Friday it has recently submitted a report to Biddeford City Manager Jim Bennett on its own extensive study of parking in the downtown, calling for the construction of a parking facility within the city’s mill district.

“It was imperative that we think two and three years down the road, at least, and think about the implications of downtown growth that is already in the planning stages,” Bruce Benway, chair of the subcommittee, said in a prepared statement.

“There’s clearly a need to keep the public better informed as policy makers tackle these long-term strategic decisions, like the parking shortage, and the overall design of a revitalized downtown,” Benway added.

The task force made three recommendations to city officials, saying a parking garage should be built in the downtown area, financed in a way that facility users — not taxpayers — pay all costs and built either on the former Maine Energy Recovery Company site at 3 Lincoln St. or behind the Lincoln Mill building.

Committee members say the study viewed the mill district as an integral part of Biddeford’s downtown, rather than a separate area.

“Together, the downtown and mill district make up a single vibrant neighborhood, the future of which increasingly depends on its supply of parking,” the committee said.

Mayor Alan Casavant said in an email Friday the City Council is now considering hiring an engineering firm to prepare the groundwork for construction of a garage.

In November, the council gave approval to seek proposals for the design of a downtown parking structure, which city officials have said is crucial in continuing development of the city’s downtown and mill district.

Five firms turned in submissions: Desman Design Management of Rocky Hill, Connecticut; Oak Point Associates of Biddeford; OES Associates of New York City; Platz Associates of Auburn; and Winton Scott Architects, based in Portland.

A separate committee staffed by Casavant, who is a proponent of a downtown parking garage, selected two consultants for further review by the City Council. The council reviewed those firms — whom Bennett has not publicly named — in a special meeting Thursday.

Bennett said Monday the council will decide in the coming weeks whether or not to hire one of the two firms recommended by Casavant’s committee.

“I think the next two discussions they need to have are, ‘What’s the process they’ll use to decide location?’ and how exactly they’re going to go through that process,” Bennett said. “The other piece of the discussion they have to have is they need to begin to talk about are who’s going to get charged all around the paid portion of this thing ... the finances of the garage are really all around what the council comes up with.”

Casavant said the garage will be entirely funded with user fees from the garage and that taxpayers will not have to pay for its construction.

Bennett said the city hopes to solicit a revenue bond to be repaid by user fees and, if that isn’t enough, money would be drawn from the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, fund to cover costs.

“(What) we hope to be able to do is end up rolling construction costs into a bond that gets repaid by people” who use the garage, Bennett said.

"There is still considerable work that needs to be done ... there are so many moving pieces, and this is a decision not to be taken lightly,” Casavant said. “All of the evidence suggests that in order to get maximum build out of the mill district and get additional redevelopment of the downtown, a garage is needed.”

Casavant also said, for those who don’t live in the downtown, the added tax revenue generated by redevelopment and higher valuations will stabilize and diversify the tax rate.

The Downtown Task Force agreed with Casavant, saying that if Biddeford’s growth is to continue, parking issues must be addressed before they become worse.

“As its mission applies to downtown parking, the subcommittee has recognized that highly qualified experts have studied that issue in particular detail,” the committee said. “Those experts have concluded that continuing the positive trends in downtown Biddeford depends on addressing a documented shortage of parking in the city’s downtown district.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

Return to top