Saturday, February 27, 1999

Parking crisis suddenly worsens


City shuts down crumbling garage

BY PERRY BROTHERS
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[map]
• Location: 123 W. Sixth St.
• Total spaces: 358
• Monthly parkers: 215
• Monthly parking fee: $80
• Built: 1950s
• Ownership: The City of Cincinnati bought the garage in 1988.
• Last inspected: 1995. No structural defects were found.
        Structural defects in a downtown parking garage led the city to close it suddenly on Friday, pushing more than 350 commuters into the hunt for a diminishing number of parking spaces.

        Patrons of the city-owned Parkade garage at 123 W. Sixth St. found notices on their cars Friday afternoon saying the garage had permanently closed. The notice said parkers who paid $80 for a Parkade space for the month of March will receive a spot in the city-owned 650-space Fountain Square garage on Vine Street. After March, however, patrons are on their own.

        “This is unfortunate and it's not something that we planned on,” said Andi Udris, the city's economic development director. “I had no choice.”

        Engineers hired by the city discovered design defects — likely there since the building was built in the 1950s — that “have raised concerns about its ability to safely support the weight of parked vehicles,” according to memo to council from City Manager John Shirey.

        Downtown retailer Gary B. Gerwe said the closing likely will push the 350 Parkade parkers into garages used by retail customers, making it harder for shoppers to find a spot downtown. These days of parking shortages — because of closing riverfront lots — are tough times for retailers.

        “We need all the parking we can get,” said Mr. Gerwe, owner of Bromwell's at 117 W. Fourth St. “Hopefully they'll build something (at Fifth & Race) real fast.”

        The garage had been slated for demolition later this year as part of the redevelopment of the adjoining Fifth & Race Tower site, but the city had planned to leave it open until after tearing down the adjoining tower.

        Mr. Udris ordered the garage to turn away vehicles starting at noon.

        “You don't guess on something like this,” Mr. Udris said. “We caught the problem ahead of time and closed it before anyone got hurt.”

        Douglas May, a monthly Parkade parker who works in the Cincinnati Commerce Center at Sixth and Vine streets, said he was glad the city moved quickly, but said finding a new spot will be a challenge.

        “I think they're doing the best they can,” said Mr. May, of Montgomery.

        Marlinda Jones said the decision will push her to do what she's wanted to do for awhile — stop paying high parking rates and ride the bus.

        “Parking is just too high anyway,” said Ms. Jones, who works for AT&T Co. in the Crowne Plaza Hotel building.

        Other parkers were more upset.

        “Well, that just stinks,” said Guy York, a White Oak resident who works in the Star Banc Building. “This is the only lot that's not regularly full. I guess I'll park at the stadium, but I'll have to get some new shoes, 'cause that's a long walk.”

        The city will ask the company contracted for the Fifth & Race demolition to re-bid for the destruction of both buildings. Mr. Udris said it is too early to determine a new demolition schedule for the two buildings.

        A new development is planned for the building as soon as the city and its Fifth & Race development partner — Western-Southern Life Insurance Co. — find a retail tenant to anchor a new building with an adjoining 700 space garage.

        Plans to put a Maison Blanche department store on the site fell through when the store's parent company — Mercantile Stores Co. Inc. — was purchased last year by Dillards Inc.



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