EAU CLAIRE — An Eau Claire city councilman criticized a consultant’s report for not giving advice on how to provide parking downtown to make up for a ramp that will be demolished in coming years.
During Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, Councilman Jeremy Gragert said the final report issued by WGI didn’t provide all the answers he was seeking to help make decisions about public parking.
“I don’t feel like I learned a lot from it, and there are so many steps in the future,” he said.
In particular he had hoped the report would give the city a recommendation on how to replace the 405-stall parking ramp along South Farwell and Gibson streets.
Built in 1973, the ramp is next to The Lismore Hotel and is nearing the end of its structural life. While a replacement won’t be needed in the next five years, a city planning document anticipates design and construction of new downtown parking structures between 2026 and 2030.
“What does this really say on the potential need to address parking ramps downtown?” Gragert asked about the consultant’s report during Tuesday’s meeting.
Leah Ness, deputy city engineer, said the report does include maps and parking data the city could use when it needs to make a decision on replacing the old ramp.
“We do have the tools that the consultant gave us to help us further look at locations,” Ness said.
Nicole Chinea from WGI said the report did not dive deep into the need for a new parking structure, though it acknowledges that will be an issue in the future.
“The supply and demand didn’t warrant that as an immediate need,” she said.
The study included parking counts taken on weekdays during 2019 at the ramp showing it was about half full. Based on that, the report stated downtown’s current parking supply would need to absorb 255 stalls. The study did note that the parking counts were done while City Hall was closed for remodeling in early 2019, meaning that city employees and visitors were not contributing to those using the ramp.
“Once a demolition date is confirmed an updated occupancy count should be taken to provide an up-to-date rate of occupancy,” the study stated.
Updating public parking technology and hiring a manager to oversee parking were identified as higher, more urgent priorities for the city, Chinea said.
Gragert acknowledged there were some recommendations in the study to consider in those areas, but felt its findings fell short of what he’d hoped for.
“Obviously there is a lot of work ahead, and this plan inches us forward,” he said.
Despite his criticism, Gragert still voted to accept the report. The vote was 10-0 with Councilman John Lor absent from the meeting.
In addition to downtown parking, the study also examined issues of on-street parking in two neighborhoods close to UW-Eau Claire — the Historic Randall Park and Third Ward neighborhoods. The study was authorized in the 2019 budget with a cost of up to $75,000.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting:
• A site plan for Chippewa Valley Technical College’s new Transportation Education Center won unanimous approval from the council.
• A five-year Transit Development Plan was accepted by a 10-0 vote of the council.
• The council approved a contract to pay $1.1 million to buy two new city buses — one diesel fueled and the other hybrid — from Gillig of Livermore, Calif.
• City public meetings can continue to be held online through March 9, the council decided in a 10-0 vote.