Short-term parking fixes eyed for Downtown area

? Valet parking, new signage and making Holley Court garage's lower levels available only to

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

A special committee of the Oak Park village board met with business leaders last week to address fears that imminent construction atop two of downtown's more prominent surface parking lots will cause an acute parking shortage in the coming months.

Though board members present acknowledged that downtown will ultimately need more parking spaces?#34;likely in the form of a new garage?#34;the village and Downtown Oak Park are now expected to implement several interim relief measures. Ideas under consideration include offering a valet parking service, setting aside the bottom levels of the Holley Court garage for retail customers only and adding new signage downtown that clearly directs drivers toward available parking.

In addition, Downtown Oak Park members voiced concerns about parking enforcement. Specifically, they expressed concerns that the more convenient spaces available downtown not be taken up by business employees. Because village staff must enforce parking rules uniformly, Village Manager Carl Swenson urged business leaders to work harder to urge employees to park elsewhere.

"The best enforcement is for business owners to get employees out of those spots," he said.

Concerns over parking stem in part from building projects underway, and those that will soon begin, at existing surface lots downtown. Construction of a condominium project is expected to begin at the Bank One lot, on Marion Street just north of Lake Street, and at the surface lot at Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street. Construction is also currently underway at the smaller lot adjacent to Chipotle Grill on Lake Street.

"We have a crisis right in front of us. We cannot build a garage in time," Mike Fox, president of the Downtown Oak Park business association, said of the situation.

"If we can't provide convenient parking, we lose businesses. We encourage people to walk, but the reality is, we lose a significant amount of particular customers," added Nancy Deuchler, manager of Barbara's Bookstore.

Downtown Oak Park members said currently, the area offers about 1.95 spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial space. An ideal ratio would be somewhere between 3-5 spaces, Fox said.

To increase parking supply permanently, the village is working on expanding the 744-space Holley Court parking garage by 320 spots. Mike Chen, village director of development services, told the board last week that there are also now plans to re-stripe the garage, a measure that will ultimately increase the total parking supply in the garage by 10 percent.

During construction, however, the garage will lose roughly 60 spaces, and the adjacent lot will lose about 20 spaces, Chen said in an interview last month. At that time, Chen projected that the months of August to November will be the worst in downtown, when the area will lose roughly 150-180 spaces. The Bank One lot will lose most of its parking during construction, but enough spaces to service the bank are likely to be left available, Chen said last week.

The garage expansion was originally slated to begin in July, but Chen told the board that it's possible that construction won't begin until later in the summer. Of the 744 spaces currently at the garage, village staff said roughly 550-600 daytime permits holders have rights to park in spots. Even with that amount, Alva Johnson, village parking services manager, said there are an average of between 60-70 spaces in the garage free during peak hours.

When the expansion project is wrapped up, downtown estimates that, by 2007, there will be roughly 2.33 spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail in the area. Those figures do not take into account the increase that will be generated by the re-striping of Holley Court.

In general, however, Tim Hague, president of Taxman Corporation, cautioned that the impact of new uses downtown?#34;including the new Trader Joe's at Harlem and Ontario and the health club included in the RSC project on Lake Street?#34;may continue to make parking in downtown difficult.

"When you consider the parking that will go to Trader Joe's and RSC, that drops the ratio to lower than it is today," he said.

Business leaders also noted that the village must consider offering parking in other areas of downtown. Right now most parking is located north of Lake Street.

"There's always manipulation, but we need more parking in a different location," said Willis Johnson, owner of the Lake Theatre.

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