PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Plans to replace the crumbling Columbus Avenue garage are "shovel" ready but the state still hasn't released the more than $6 million earmarked for it.
The top level of the garage has been closed since August 2014 when city officials at the time determined the concrete beams were pulling away from the supporting structure. The move reduced parking spots in the structure by 156.
"The garage project is 'shovel ready.' All we need now is the estimated $9.4 million. There is an earmark in a transportation bond bill that says 'no less than six million dollars for a parking garage between Columbus Ave and Summer Street in the City of Pittsfield,'" Director of Building Maintenance Denis Guyer wrote in an email late last week.
"Since 2014 the City has appropriated $500,000 toward the design of a new garage."
The project's start would be "immediate" if the $9.4 million is appropriated, Guyer said.
The new structure is eyed to be a three stories with 400 parking spots. It's planned to be a much more modern facility including lighting, visibility and safety features. The design is similar to that of the McKay Street parking garage.
"It'll be a much safer building," Guyer said earlier this month when the plan received approval from the Community Development Board. At that hearing, dozens of downtown advocates supported the new building.
Downtown Pittsfield Inc. Executive Director Kristine Hurley said there are some 500 businesses downtown, filling up the existing parking spaces.
"We have thousands of employees who commute every day," Hurley said.
She said of those 500 businesses, 100 or so are restaurants, retailers, or other attractions drawing people to the downtown, all requiring places to park. Robert Malnati from the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, which is across Columbus Avenue from the garage, offered his support, particularly looking toward the future if the passenger rail line project from New York City to Pittsfield is ever completed.
"Once we have the rail, where do people park?" Malnati asked.
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission performed a study identifying locations for train stations. In Pittsfield, the existing Intermodal Center was identified as the prime location. BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns estimates at minimum of 70 additional parking spaces will be needed.
The state has purchased the rail lines to perform the needed upgrades to bring passenger rail back. However, it is still unknown what type of support the project will receive from Gov. Charlie Baker's administration. The passenger rail line was championed by former Gov. Deval Patrick. The state still needs to upgrade the lines — as does Connecticut.
The Columbus Avenue garage also sits adjacent to the newly constructed Hotel on North, and is just a block away from Barrington Stage's two locations. Those, too, attract visitors downtown.
Mayor Linda Tyer is supporting the efforts to rebuild the garage and says she's lobbying Baker's office for the funds. Also in March, Tyer led a tour of the downtown for Community Affairs Director Hodari Cail, with the Columbus Avenue garage as one of the stops.
"Regarding the Columbus Avenue Garage, $6 million already exists in the transportation bond bill. Our project is shovel ready and the total cost is estimated at $9.4 million. We are advocating for Gov. Baker to release the transportation bond bill funds and, at the same, we seek further assistance to make this critical downtown asset a reality," Tyer wrote in an email on Thursday.
"The garage will provide parking that serves downtown merchants, cultural institutions, the downtown campus of Berkshire Community College, and the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority for both its regional bus transportation and its Amtrak train service."
The level of state participating isn't known at this point but city leaders hope to find the necessary funds for the project.
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