by ZACH KAYSER
Change is the only constant. Continents shift position, empires rise and fall, and languages transform as cultures collide with one another. And, the city of Winona sells parking lots, only to buy parking lots later on.
The observant reader looking at a map of downtown parking that lists the public lots from 1-16, might notice there are no lots 11 or 13. It’s not because the city is superstitious, it’s because those municipal lots don’t exist anymore. Number 13 had 20 12-hour stalls but was eliminated to make way for the 102 Walnut development project. Number 11 had 26 12-hour stalls but was eliminated for the new bridge.
In 2018, in response to public outcry about the perceived lack of parking downtown, the city surveyed the number of off street parking spaces available and how often they were used. The study, by Walker Consultants, found that the city actually had a surplus of parking spaces overall, but a number of “hot spots” existed where higher-than average demand exceeded supply.
As of the 2018 study, there were 4,030 spots in downtown Winona, in the area from Winona Street in the west to Kansas Street in the east. Approximately 56 percent of those spaces were city-owned. As October 2020, there were 14 public parking lots in downtown with 738 public spaces, according to a city map. Assistant City Planner Luke Sims said the ratio had shifted down three points in the intervening years, to 53 percent city ownership. However, he described the overall number of spaces as “relatively stable at this time” compared to the time of the study.
City Manager Steve Sarvi also said the net number of parking lot spaces has remained stable. It had seen a slight net increase to 4,045 spaces, according to the city’s updated numbers, he said. As an example, Sarvi noted that although the public lot in the old Hardee’s block had disappeared to make way for the Main Square development, it had been replaced by that development’s new surface and underground parking.
However, it should be noted that with the Main Square development, the 150 public spaces were eliminated and replaced with private parking reserved for Main Square tenants and customers. What’s more, the city is considering leasing spaces in a parking ramp Main Square hopes to build
In addition to Main Square, a proposed development at 60 Main Street would eliminate the 83 public spots there.
In recent months, the city has been working with Fastenal to buy an entire city block’s worth of land for parking, near the new bridge.
Although it is not certain how much will be private and how much public, the land acquisition is timed with Fastenal’s construction of a new office building, so presumably, Fastenal employees may end up using many of the spaces, private or not.
However, alternative commuting for Fastenal employees may free up spaces for other users, Sarvi said. “According to Fastenal many employees that work in the divisions that will [work] out of the new building already use alternative transportation to get to their work areas where they are currently housed so we would expect them to do the same in downtown office location,” he said.
The city has no specific quantitative target for parking, Sarvi said — no magic number for the number of spaces. However, city staff try to judge what needs residents and downtown businesses will have in light of new property developments adding or taking away spaces.
The city is in the process of buying the lot adjacent to the Pro Build site on Second Street, and if it is in fact turned into parking, Sarvi anticipated a mixture of short-term parking combined with longer-time-limit spaces, such as 12-hour spaces. He emphasized that just because the city was thinking of the site as parking in the short term, that did not preclude it from being developed into something else in the future. “There are future development opportunities in this area of downtown so Port Authority ownership of the property is a strategic move, not just for parking needs,” he said. “We don’t know what will develop in the area so parking lots that are being developed now aren’t necessarily going to be the medium or long-term use of those properties in the future.”
Asked whether the acquisition of the property on Second Street and near the bridge reflected a conscious policy shift from selling parking lot space to buying them, Sarvi talked about a reaction to specific circumstances prompted by developers, not a deliberate shift one way or the other. “The two instances you reference are locations where there is going to be increased activity with the jail and Fastenal building and who knows what else,” he said. “The Port is anticipating at least a temporary increase in the need for parking in the area. We appreciate that Fastenal has included onsite parking and the location they plan to use at the former YMCA but due to the increase in activity there’s a need for increased parking capacity.”
Mike Cichanowski, chair of the Port Authority, said the decisions faced by the city regarding parking were perennial. “The parking issue comes up all of the time,” he said. “Do you do a ramp someplace, don’t you do a ramp someplace.”
Even if there’s not a specific target number of spots written down on a piece of paper someplace, parking tends to follow development, Cichanowski said.
Although it cannot directly control what developers choose to build downtown and what properties become available for purchase, the city can fine tune the regulations on what public parking spaces exist already. As it stands now, off-street parking has a mixture of 12-hour and two hour spots. Residents who live in apartments downtown must move their cars every night or risk being ticketed.
“That whole thing could be, and should be, looked at,” Cichanowski said.
Sarvi said the regulations were balanced and didn’t need to be changed. However, the city could do more to follow the Walker study’s recommendations by adding additional handicap spaces, he said.