Whitefish to Hold Meetings on Parking Structure

By Beacon Staff

As Whitefish continues its long-running conversation about downtown parking, the city council is expected to address the issue at two upcoming meetings, with the goal of making a decision that will also impact the future of city hall.

The council will hold a work session on April 15 at city hall to discuss parking structure options, followed a month later by a May 20 public hearing. Also, the city unanimously approved an agreement with Whitefish Frontiers to lease the vacant lots at the corner of Central Avenue and First Street as a temporary parking lot.

The city has identified downtown parking and a new city hall as top priorities for tax increment finance-funded projects. The council decided last fall to rebuild city hall at its current location on Baker Avenue and Second Street rather than at a new site or moving into an existing building. Councilors then asked consultants to explore the feasibility of combining parking at the city hall site.

Representatives from the city’s parking consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates, presented a parking structure feasibility and concept design study to councilors last month. The council has reviewed multiple alternative conceptual designs for a combined city hall and parking garage, though city officials stress that the designs are very preliminary and subject to change once an architect is hired for city hall.

The design alternatives would add more than 200 parking spaces and cost about $6 million, varying a few hundred thousand dollars depending on the design.

As part of its feasibility study, Kimley-Horn and Associates listed four towns of relatively comparable size to Whitefish that have parking structures: Aspen, Colo., Traverse City, Mich., La Grange, Ill., and Greencastle, Ind.

“All of these small communities considered the investment in structured parking to be part of (a) larger economic development strategy,” the study states.

The city has discussed for years how to expand parking downtown. Now city officials feel they are reaching a crucial decision-making time, with both parking and new city hall discussions coming to a head.

Council will have to decide if it prefers surface parking or a structure, and what type of structure might best fit the city’s core. The city’s agreement with Whitefish Frontiers to lease the five vacant lots next to Craggy Range Bar and Grill is seen as a temporary solution to downtown parking. It is expected to provide 35 public parking spaces.

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