Pittsfield moving ahead on parking garage replacement

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PITTSFIELD — The city is pushing ahead with plans to demolish and replace the partially condemned Columbus Avenue parking garage and will seek input from the public and planning officials next week.

The project to replace the aging structure with a three-level parking garage that will increase the number of spaces from the original 279 to more than 400 will go before the Community Development Board for a public hearing on Tuesday. A permit is required because the facility is within the Downtown Arts Overlay District.

City Director of Building Maintenance Denis Guyer said this week that input is sought on the design and overall plan for the estimated $9 million-plus project. The preliminary design has been completed, he said, and construction drawings are being prepared as the city awaits word on the final pieces of a proposed funding package.

"This will initiate public comment," he said of the meeting.

City planners and other officials have been asked to review the project, Guyer said, as have members of Downtown Inc. — which represents businesses in the district — and other neighbors.

The city also is working with the local legislative delegation to determine "how much the state is going to fund," Guyer said.

A state transportation bond earmark of "no less than $6 million" was approved for replacement of the garage two years ago, and the city intends to seek grant or other funding to meet the balance of the estimated project cost.

"We are looking at a couple of different sources," he said, referring to possible MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant funding or federal funding sources.

The fact the Columbus Avenue structure is close to the Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center, which could be a destination for future interstate passenger rail service, is a factor that might help free up additional grants, he said.

A Berkshire Regional Planning Commission study of possible rail passenger depot sites along the 38-mile section of north-south rail line in the county highlighted a need for additional parking in the downtown if passenger rail service is restored. The proposed service would connect Pittsfield with Connecticut and ultimately New York City rail lines, if established as proposed following rail line upgrades.

The parking facility also is considered necessary to support the city's downtown arts venues, restaurants and shops, and the 45-room Hotel on North, which opened near the site.

For now, Guyer said, the priority is to "get our ducks in a row" in terms of final design plans and city permitting for the project, which could be a factor in stimulating how soon and how much funding or grant money becomes available.

Other communities are known to be developing parking facilities as well, he said, and Pittsfield would like to have its project "shovel ready" when state or federal funding decisions are made.

The current 40-year-old parking garage has two decks, but the second level was closed off in July 2014 after an inspection by the firm Desman Associates in advance of a planned maintenance project revealed major structural flaws.

That September, Desman Associates did a more detailed analysis of the required repairs needed to reopen the second-story deck, and the estimated cost was $1.6 million. The firm recommended that the city consider replacing the facility, which was near the end of its useful lifespan.

The Daniel L. Bianchi administration subsequently decided to begin planning for a new garage. The former mayor in 2015 received City Council approval for $400,000 to begin the project design work.

Desman Associates has been working on the design and now the construction drawings.

The city also will seek a permit Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall from the Community Development Board for use of the site for surface parking after the current structure is demolished and until the new parking garage can be constructed.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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