Whitefish Approves Surface Lot on Spokane Avenue

By Beacon Staff

On Nov. 17, the Whitefish City Council approved the preliminary design plans for a surface parking lot along Spokane Avenue between First and Second streets, bringing the city one step closer to mapping out a long-sought downtown parking plan.

The decision comes a month and a half after the council directed staff to proceed with design plans for the surface lot instead of pursuing an earlier proposed multi-level parking garage. At a Sept. 2 meeting, the council also considered a third option of surface level parking with retail space.

The proposal approved on Nov. 17 calls for surface parking without leaving any room for retail. A total of 81 parking stalls will be provided for a cost of $594,000 – $419,000 for design and construction of the lot through tax increment finance (TIF) funds and then $175,000 for additional reconstruction on First Street using resort tax money. There is currently parking in that open lot, though it’s limited. The First Street reconstruction will improve the sidewalks, curbs and gutters, as well as provide convenient access to the lot.

Plans also call for kiosks to post community information, a landscaped entrance, benches, trash receptacles, a bike rack and luminaire lighting. At the Nov. 17 meeting, councilor Nick Palmer questioned whether a parking lot needs nice luminaire lights, though otherwise the proposal passed with little discussion. The council unanimously approved the lot.

As Whitefish grows, parking has become a major issue in the city, especially with next year’s plans for a major reconstruction of Central Avenue and downtown side streets between Third and Railway. The multi-million-dollar project will essentially change the face of downtown Whitefish, making the city’s core more attractive and pedestrian-friendly with landscaping, expanded sidewalks, decorative streetlights and more. Construction will occur one block at a time, eliminating parking along each of those blocks for a substantial amount of time.

Last December, the city unveiled plans for a three-level parking garage and it appeared officials were leaning in that direction. The garage, which had long been in discussion, initially was estimated at around $5 million, but rose to more than $6 million as construction costs grew. Design plans called for three levels and more than 200 spots, but not only was the project considerably more expensive, it also raised concerns regarding downtown height restrictions. The garage was favored by the Heart of Whitefish, a group heavily involved in downtown planning.

Former City Manager Gary Marks, who was a leader in solving Whitefish’s parking issues, offered an alternative solution earlier this year once it appeared the city would struggle with the garage’s hefty price tag. Marks proposed a surface lot where the current one is planned on Spokane Avenue as well as a new lot behind the city library. In all, the proposal would have provided a little less than 200 spots at a fraction of the cost of the garage. Ultimately, however, the city felt the surface lot alone was the most feasible option.

With the council’s decision, staff can proceed with final design plans and construction bids for the parking lot. City officials hope construction will be completed by July 1, 2009.