One of the two parking garages currently under construction in downtown Bloomington is close enough to completion that on Tuesday afternoon a dozen city insiders and media types got a tour.
Just north of city hall, the opening of the Trades District garage, with around 380 parking spaces, is on course for late March. But enough of the main elements are in place that it’s already unmistakable as a parking garage.
That contrasts with the replacement facility for the 4th Street deck, which is not due to come online until August of 2021. So it’s still coming out of the ground.
Of the 540 spaces to be constructed in the 4th Street replacement garage, 352 count as replacements for the spaces that were housed in the previous 4th Street structure. It was closed at the end of 2018 due to structural failure, and demolished last year.
Leading Tuesday’s tour were Bloomington’s director for economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, and Josh Scism, with Core Planning Strategies, the firm that’s managing both parking garage projects.
Scism focused the group’s attention on the structural elements: concrete, cabling, pumps and the like.
Crowley took the chance to review with the group the case for the city’s decision to build the garage, but hedged against any perceived enthusiasm for parking garages generally. “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages,” Crowley said.
Crowley put the Trades District parking garage in the context of a 2013, master plan for the certified technology park. The original certified tech park actually contemplated two parking garages, Crowley said. One of them was conceived as going in the area where the current garage is getting built. The other one was thought to fit on the northwest side of the park.
Crowley said that in order for Bloomington to stimulate the kind of private investment in the area that it wanted to see, some parking capacity would be needed. “We needed to essentially make a down payment, if you will, on that municipal parking capacity, which is what this garage is,” Crowley said.
Crowley added, “What we want to try to do with this garage is to signal to the development community that if they develop office space, like what we want them to do, and if they attract tenants into the area, like we want them to do, that if those tenants have parking needs, there is parking capacity in the vicinity to meet those needs.”
Crowley described parking garages as “a necessary evil.”
The Square Beacon asked if analyzing the current garage as a “downpayment” on a master plan that called for two parking garages implies that the city would build another parking garage in the area. Crowley responded by saying, “My hope, honestly, is that as time goes on, time works for us, when it comes to the dependency on single-occupancy-vehicle traveling. And the more that time goes on, the less people will need that.”
Crowley added, “My hope is that we never have to build another garage in this area.” Crowley pointed to the fact that a certain amount of parking will potentially be delivered by developments themselves. It’s possible to imagine a new development with some parking underneath, Crowley said. He also pointed to on-street parking as a resource.
Crowley wrapped up by saying, “You know, my sincere hope is never to see Josh again!” It was a joke, of course, which Josh Scism, project manager with Core Strategies, took in stride.
Asked if eventually adding another story or three to the garage would be feasible, if parking demand warranted it, Scism said that would be a question for a structural engineer. But the Trades District garage was not designed to have stories added, he said. The top feature of the garage right now, Scism said, is going to be a solar array.
Scism highlighted for the group some elements of the garage that speak to its high quality of construction. He pointed to the cabling that is suspended in the concrete and put under tension, which lends structural stability, keeping everything rigid and tight so it can carry the load.
Scism talked about the high quality of the concrete pour. “What you won’t see here that makes it so significant is a lot of swirl marks and undulations and dipsy doodles in the concrete.” He added, “It’s all very flat, very well finished up. Above our heads and what we’re walking on.”
Scism pointed out a panel on the ground floor slab, under which there’s a compartment that separates water from the oil that would accumulate in a parking garage. The oil gets skimmed off before the water is discharged.
Scism also showed off the pumping system which is needed to keep the typically high level of groundwater in the Bloomington area from flooding the garage. The shallow bedrock ends up carrying a lot of water on top of it because it can’t seep into the soils, Scism said.
To start off, Scism said, about 10 of the spaces will be designed with chargers for electric vehicles. But that can be expanded, because conduit is being run for the wires as a part of the construction.
Years from now, it would be hard to add the wiring if the conduit was not incorporated during construction, because of the concrete pouring technique that’s being used. “With post-tensioned concrete structures, you don’t just go poking holes in the slab,” Scism said.
4th Street Garage Update
At the meeting of the Bloomington redevelopment commission (RDC) on Monday, the day before the Trades District garage tour, Crowley gave RDC members an update on the 4th Street garage plan, focusing on the ground-floor commercial space.
Crowley told RDC members, “There’s going to be a slightly larger portion of that commercial space that will be used by the city. There’s going to be a parking services footprint.”
Spaces for parking services was always contemplated, Crowley said. He added, “But we’re going to use one more bay for that than we originally thought.”
Crowley described the additional space for parking services as “a sort of a shop…to repair meters” and do some of the work that parking services does.
Responding to Crowley, president of the RDC Don Griffin deadpanned, “So are they paying market rate?”
Crowley laughed, “We’ll see!”
Griffin responded by saying, “Well, I’m not laughing. We’re on a Zoom call here! This is our property. Are they doing this for free? Do they think they’re getting two bays for free?”
Crowley told Griffin he’d check with the city controller and get back with Griffin.
By now Griffin was laughing, “Let’s figure that out, OK? This ain’t no charity.” He quickly added, “Sorry. Sometimes it is.”
Griffin’s point appeared to be that if the city itself is going to be occupying more of the ground-floor space that was meant for commercial tenants, the city will be forgoing revenue that commercial tenants would have paid.
The inclusion of commercial ground-floor space was the design feature that caused the city’s eminent domain lawsuit to fail, when it attempted to acquire land to make a larger footprint for the garage.