By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
A group of Quincy merchants and downtown property owners says a proposed municipal parking lot at the northeast corner of Sixth and Jersey is needed — and the sooner, the better.
"I kind of feel like the hand of fate was involved" with the proposal, said Brett Austin of Austin Properties, who was among the people at an informal meeting on downtown parking Tuesday organized by the Historic Quincy Business District at Martini's, 515 Maine.
Austin said the lot at Sixth and Jersey is just a half-block off Maine Street, near one of the business district's busiest intersections. The former site of a gas station that the city bought last year, the vacant lot will not require building demolition.
Other business owners at the meeting said the parking problem downtown has been especially bad since hundreds of office workers have started competing with cusotmers for on-street and parking lot spaces. Many of the workers park all day on downtown streets or in the parking lot near the Maine Center. The addition of 65 parking spaces at Sixth and Jersey has been put forward as a partial solution.
HQBD Executive Director Travis Brown said many of the employers in the area will direct their workers to park in the new lot when it is completed.
Chuck Bevelheimer, director of the Department of Planning and Development, told the business and property owners that if the Quincy City Council approves the plans, the parking lot could be developed by sometime in June. He said a concrete surface is planned with an entry off Jersey Street, as well as access in a widened alley to the north.
"We plan to redo the sidewalk, and have a grass strip and a landscaped strip. We have planned for lights around the perimeter," Bevelheimer said.
Engineering is expected to cost $34,000, and construction costs are expected to be about $380,000. Funds for the project would come from a downtown tax increment finance district that is projected to hold $585,000 at the start of the fiscal year May 1.
Bevelheimer said the City Council's Finance and Central Services committees could hear details of the lot redevelopment proposal this month and send it on to the full City Council for consideration.
Brown called plans for the lot "a huge step in the right direction" to resolve downtown parking issues.
Several business owners also have called for better enforcement of time limits in some downtown parking lots. They said $5 fines are not working. Progressive fines or towing of vehicles might be needed to solve some of the chronic parking abuse.
Several other city officials also attended the informal meeting to hear merchant input.
"I think it's a good project. It would take care of some of the parking issues we have on Maine and turn an eyesore into something useful," Alderman Jack Holtschlag, D-7, said of the vacant lot.
The lot was purchased for $120,000 in June from Troy Mallory. Concerns about underground fuel tanks were eased when the Illinois state fire marshal ruled in October that no environmental cleanup was needed.
Bevelheimer said the addition of 65 parking spaces at Sixth and Jersey, which would be dubbed Lot K, would bring the downtown total to 745 spaces in 11 city-owned lots. Twenty of those spaces are set aside for handicapped-accessible parking.
Austin said he would like to see a discussion of leased parking spaces that exist in some of the downtown city-owned lots, which he said do not seem to match up with the future plans in the Historic Quincy Business District.