If disagreements surrounding a plan for a new city garage are not resolved, parking in downtown New Haven will continue to be scarce for area residents and visitors.
The Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee recently tabled a proposal to apply for a $4 million state grant that would go toward funding a parking garage behind the First Union Bank building on Church Street.
The Finance Committee decided to delay its decision after a meeting with Salvatore Brancati, the former New Haven director of economic development and currently a private consultant representing Independence Realty. At the meeting, Brancati told the committee that his client would soon be ready to submit a proposal to the City Plan Commission to build a privately owned and operated garage on the same site.
This lot, bounded by Elm, Church, Orange and Wall streets, currently belongs to several property owners, one of which is Independence Realty.
City officials said Brancati informed the Finance Committee that his client has obtained private funding for the project and would not any need public subsidies. Brancati also said a private garage would yield tax revenues that a municipal garage could not.
But Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said he refuses to believe Brancati, citing Independence Realty’s failure to draw up a concrete proposal despite having been given years to do so.
“Since they’ve started promising to develop the parcel, they’ve never shown us pro forma that they could complete it,” DeStefano said. “This is not a new project. It’s several years old. [Independence Realty’s] persistence in this matter is, frankly, a mystery to me — I just don’t understand it.”
Brancati could not be reached for comment.
The city would like to build a larger public garage on the property and has reached a tentative agreement with the city Parking Authority to do so. In the agreement, the authority has offered to build and operate such a garage. The project will be financed through the sale of $17 million in revenue bonds, and the debt would be repaid through excess parking fee revenues.
“The property owners in the area have long demanded more parking,” said William Kilpatrick, the Parking Authority’s director. “We commissioned a feasibility study which suggested that there is a need for more parking in the area.”
In addition, the city has promised to acquire the property for the project and has been negotiating with the property owners. A few years ago, an amendment was passed by the City Plan Commission, the Development Commission, and the Board of Aldermen to include the property into the Municipal Development Plan. Under the plan, the city has the right to take the property in question by eminent domain. The current proposal before the Finance Committee would help the city acquire the property by using the $4 million state grant.
“[The city] would only resort to eminent domain if an agreement can’t be reached between the city and the private property owners,” said Karyn Gilvarg, the executive director of the City Plan Department.
Although the debate over the disputed area focuses on who gets to build the garage, some members of the Board of Aldermen would like to see the property turned into a park.
“I am disappointed by the lack of vision,” Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahern said. “Owners of commercial buildings want parking garages because they feel it will make their tenants happier, but if they would only turn the page, if you will, they might see that a park would be of better use to the tenants.”
Ever since the mid-1980s, the city has been trying to build what it refers to as the “mid-block garage” in the Orange Street site, a move that many think would help to ease parking shortages in the downtown area.