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Parking issues persist at Government Center

Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com Cars begin lining up along Hammond Avenue on Thursday morning, Jan. 24, north of the Government Center located one block south of Downs-Lesage Funeral Home, which struggles to provide parking because of the government building.

Parking at the Government Center can be a challenge at times.

But for Bill Downs, owner of Downs-LeSage Funeral Home, the parking issue is creating problems for the business his family built decades ago one block north of the Government Center.

"My family has been in the funeral business here in Superior for 131 years," Downs told the County-City Committee on Wednesday. "The funeral home, Downs-Lesage, has been there since probably five years after this courthouse was built, so it's been there a long, long time. As developments been going on, we've lost our parking in front of the funeral home. You put in a turning lane, so that took most of our parking ... just lately, a new sign has gone up (on North 13th Street), no parking on that side at all. So if I have a funeral, I have no place to put my hearse or family cars. I also have no place for families to come to my funeral home to make arrangements. I had a family the other day; they had to walk three blocks — an elderly woman — to get to the funeral home.

Because of the parking situation, Downs said he can't hold funerals during the day, except on weekends.

On a typical weekday, the large parking lot north of the Government Center is filled early in the morning. Parking is available immediately adjacent to the building, but over the years, the number of spaces available to public has shrunk with the creation of designated parking. Cars frequently line Hammond and Cumming avenues near the building. Twice the city and county have worked to create smaller sidelots — one along Hammond Avenue designated for government vehicles and one at North 13th Street and Cumming Avenue.

What they haven't achieved is alleviating the parking problem.

"Anytime you move to create parking, there's always a cost, and not just in the initial construction," Mayor Jim Paine said. "If you're going to create parking, you're going to take it from something else. Whether you're taking down buildings — we've already taken lot that could be contributing tax revenue for the city and county, providing housing for somebody. That's a long-term cost that never, ever goes away. You have to view that as those 30 spaces cost us that potential tax revenue every single year."

Paine said he hopes solutions come from alternative methods of providing parking, such as negotiating agreements for unused commercial spaces in the vicinity of the Government Center.

Douglas County Supervisor Doug Finn said encouraging carpooling or getting employees to park further from the building could be a solution. He suggested employees could help come up with a solution.

"We have customers coming into the courthouse and into the city hall, and employees should take second place; they should park further away," Councilor Jack Sweeney said.

"I don't think it's crazy to ask a lot of those city employees to cruise a couple blocks over," Paine said. "They might become more efficient in their trips. I don't know. That's a reasonable solution. I would just want to be careful with new construction or even demolition for it."

Downs said he built a crematorium in Superior, around the time the Government Center was proposed. Building the crematorium required a plan for parking. And he questioned the city and county's plan for parking when the Government Center was proposed.

He said, at that time, the discussion suggested that all the property for one block north of the new government building would be purchased and converted to parking.

"I appreciate that you didn't tear down my building, but you would have had to pay for it and relocate me," Downs said. "That would have been OK. But right now, I've got a building I really can't use. I think this is the county and city's fault that my business is failing. And I don't know what to do."

Sweeney questioned whether the city and county were serious about finding a solution because at this point it's not even known what parking is needed for the Government Center.

Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said he would bring up the issue at the next department managers meeting for possible solutions.

"There is a solution and money is one of the factors," Sweeney said.