Downtown Janesville parking plaza on its last legs

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, August 14, 2012

— The days of the city's downtown parking plaza appear to be numbered.

Several Janesville City Council members on Monday said they might or might not agree to spend more than $136,000 to extend the life of the structure for another four years.

Others said they might agree to spend the money for a temporary fix, but agreed another four years might be the end of the line for the plaza.

The plaza was built in 1963 and underwent a major expansion in 1965. It has needed significant repair through the years and the most recent repairs should have lasted until at least 2015, said Carl Weber, public works director.

A recent inspection discovered deteriorating girders, and about 90 of the 250 stalls have been closed off. A consultant said the city can expect other girders to begin failing in another four years.

The structure's concrete is up against the "worst, challenging conditions you can have," exposed to the elements from above and below, Weber said.

The DNR has encouraged the city to remove the structure, Weber said. DNR officials have also told the city they would not issue a permit for such a structure if it were built today.

"The bottom line is, these kinds of things don't exist elsewhere," Weber said. "I know the one went away in Beloit in the last decade."

City staff thought it had time to discuss options and create a riverfront development plan with community members until the recent failure, Weber said. Now, staff members are asking for the quick fix to buy time.

More time would allow staff to investigate the best ways to create additional parking nearby, study the correct combination of all-day and hourly parking, secure grants and get resident input on embracing the river, Weber said.

Weber said the river is the city's greatest natural asset and it should be used wisely rather than to meet parking needs.

"I guess what staff is asking is allow us to define the redevelopment goals, plans and objectives, to get input, to create a vision around what this community would like to see along the river, establish consensus and generate a design concept," he said.

Officials should not waste time butting heads with the DNR and other government officials to rebuild the structure when the city could instead make allies and perhaps find some money to get the city's vision accomplished, Weber said.

While grants might be available for riverfront development or for making the river more accessible, no money is available to rebuild such a structure, he said.

City plans as far back as the 1940s show a pedestrian concourse along the river, as well as a pedestrian bridge.

The cost to demolish the plaza could be about $2 million while rebuilding it could cost between $5 and $7 million.

Tearing down the plaza could take about two years, Weber said.

Council members agreed with staff that other parking should be in place by the time the plaza would be torn down.

"Why go to that expense and still have to put up with what could be a business-killing downtime?" Weber said.

Several council members, including Russ Steeber and Sam Liebert, said they would be inclined to repair the plaza for the next four years. However, council President Kathy Voskuil questioned spending that much money for what is essentially a temporary repair.

Voskuil, who said she supports a strategy to "embrace the river," said she'd have to consider the actual bids for repair when they come back to the council.

Last updated: 5:09 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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