FREE Downtown Parking Opening Soon!
The City is excited to announce that after nearly 2 years of construction, our FREE Downtown Parking Garage is slated to open soon! Below please find some brief FAQs about the new parking garage and further below, more detailed FAQs about downtown development in general.
When will the new FREE Downtown Parking Garage open?
We are awaiting final electrical components, which have experienced delays. We are hoping these items will arrive in the fall, which will allow for the garage to have an expected opening of Late 2023 or Early 2024.
What will be the cost to park in the parking garage?
Parking in the new garage will be FREE for all users. Yes, it is uncommon for public parking garages, however, we felt this was critical for the City’s long-term goal to support downtown development now, and into the future.
What will be the hours of the new FREE Downtown Parking Garage?
General Public hours will be daily from 6AM to Midnight (including holidays). Doors will be locked from 12AM (midnight) until 6AM, and cars will not be allowed to enter or exit the property.
What has the City done to ensure the parking garage is a safe place to park?
To ensure safety while using the parking garage, the garage will have staffed security (similar to One Riverfront Plaza) and we have designed and implemented the following features: Glass stairwells designed for security visibility, increased lighting both in & around the garage, security cameras, and emergency call boxes.
Will the FREE Downtown Parking Garage be available for parking during snow emergencies?
In addition to daily operations, the parking garage will be accessible for use during snow emergencies. When snow occurs, the top floor of the garage will be designated as a RED ZONE, meaning parking will not be available on this floor at that time. However, all remaining lower floors will be designated as a GREEN ZONE, allowing users use of these floors. Parking attendants will leave the gates of the garage open at Midnight (unlike daily operations), place signage, and cordon off the top floor of the garage to restrict traffic from that floor. This will ensure Public Services (or their designee) to plow the area, as needed.
When will the housing and retail connected to the garage be done?
The housing and retail component of this project has had challenges with construction and financing costs. That project is still approved and we hope will be developed soon as those costs stabilize.
More Detailed FAQs for Downtown Development
Updated September 26th, 2023
Why is the City doing so much development downtown?
In January 1999, and updated in January 2007, the City of Westbrook adopted the Downtown Revitalization Study to help guide the future of the City. This plan was reaffirmed by the current City Council in 2022, which supported the development of Vertical Harvest and the parking garage in the place of the Mechanic Street parking lot. The recent RFP and referenced documents can be found here: https://www.westbrookmaine.com/bids.aspx?bidID=92
This plan specifically calls for this type of proposed development following the negative effects of urban renewal to help restore downtown activity. Proactively, the City made changes to zoning, along with additional investments, to allow for the development, which we are now starting to see come to fruition.
The investment of the parking garage (including the free use by the general public) allows the City room for expansion in the downtown, specifically related to parking.
We are also aware of the on-going, current housing shortage, in addition to the parking needs downtown, this plan supports the investment of all housing types in the downtown, as well as mixed-use commercial and municipal uses. This allows the two-fold benefit of supporting downtown businesses and increased housing opportunities.
What has the City invested in to support downtown growth/development?
The City has invested in the following downtown:
- Parking garage at One Riverfront Plaza
- Riverwalk trail and boardwalk in the core of downtown along with improved parking in and around businesses along the river.
- Streetscape improvements surrounding the new Bridge Street Bridge & pedestrian bridge in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation.
- Widening, reconstruction, and signalization improvements for William Clarke Drive & Cumberland Mills.
- Westbrook Common Revitalization and underground utility infrastructure improvements.
- Downtown parking garage and underground utility infrastructure improvements around the site.
- Acquisitions of land from Sappi to support future Riverwalk expansions and river island access.
- Grant funding received to improve ADA accessibility and update of decking for the current riverwalk to be completed this winter.
- Grant received to develop downtown pedestrian safety improvements.
Why did the City of Westbrook build a parking garage downtown?
The parking garage was constructed as recommended by the Downtown Revitalization Studies of 1999 & 2007 and the Downtown Parking Study of 2006. The garage was primarily built to support the development of Vertical Harvest, housing, retail, and general growth/development of the downtown. Vertical Harvest construction is well underway and slated to open in 2024. The housing component of the project has been hindered by construction and financing costs, also affecting many other projects in the region. Despite this, the housing portion is still approved and slated to be built in the coming future, as well as the parking garage being estimated to open in late 2023.
What will it cost to park in the parking garage?
The parking garage will be FREE to park in. This will not change for 28 years due to financing. The project was financed using tax-exempt bonds and IRS regulations. This restricts the City’s ability to charge a parking fee. Organizations around the garage such as Vertical Harvest or future housing & retail will pay a common area maintenance charge to help operate & maintain the facility.
If there is no cost for the parking garage, how is it funded?
The parking garage is funded through Tax Increment Financing. A new TIF District was established downtown and at a nearby natural gas substation. Taxes paid by those businesses support paying the debt of the garage and future downtown improvements/operations. Common area maintenance charges will offset operational expenses and contribute to cost savings through shared services with our current parking garage operation. Additionally, the proposed parking lots for future development were encompassed in this district, ensuring that all taxes generated from those sites will be directed towards funding these initiatives.
The last time the City built a parking garage, it was believed to be open to the public. Why didn’t that happen and what will prevent this from happening here?
Those discussions took place over 20 years ago and at the time, the City agreed to lease the entire garage to the owner of the building of One Riverfront Plaza. It was never intended or sized appropriately for public use. This lease is still in place and the costs paid cover the cost of operations & maintenance of the garage. We have investigated making changes to this agreement with the current building owner but have so far been unsuccessful. The operations & maintenance of the current garage can be combined to help minimize future costs of the new garage.
Is it true many of the parking spaces in the new garage are already set aside for Vertical Harvest and/or Maine Health?
There are no reserved parking spaces in the new parking garage. Vertical Harvest is anticipated to use about 25 spaces daily. With the previous lot having approximately 125 spaces, and the new garage containing 407 spaces, we will likely have approximately 250 additional free parking spaces.
When the One Riverfront Plaza parking garage was built, there was a letter from a previous Mayor promising an additional 90 parking spaces to the building owner as part of their financing. This was not approved by the City Council and there is no formal agreement. Therefore, the City has no legal obligation to provide these spaces, nor have they ever been requested. Since the pandemic, the current owner only uses a small portion of the existing garage but still leases 100% of the garage.
Why would people park in the parking garage when they can park elsewhere now with no issue?
Much of the public parking downtown is time limited to provide turnover parking for businesses. This will not be the case for the parking garage on the remaining Ash Street surface lot. The garage will also provide covered parking, a more favorable option during inclement weather to protect your vehicle.
Prior to the pandemic and any downtown construction, downtown parking restrictions have been in place with various time restrictions. These were regularly enforced by a Parking Enforcement Officer. When the pandemic began, the City’s parking enforcement position was eliminated and has not been restored given the construction and change of uses downtown. Limited parking enforcement has been done downtown during this time by the Police Department. Once the parking garage is open by the end of 2023, the City will look to restore parking enforcement of current downtown parking regulations. The City will also consider changes to current downtown parking regulations to encourage longer-term daytime parking to be in the new parking garage, while shorter-term parking will be on streets and surface lots. This will help to create turnover parking for customers going to downtown businesses.
Why is the City considering selling the parking lots on Church Street and the lot between Bank of America and TD Bank?
As part of the Downtown Revitalization Study, it was recommended to encourage growth and development in the downtown area by redeveloping key sites to ensure their consistency with the larger area. The lots once included commercial & residential buildings prior to Urban Renewal. Now with an abundance of parking, portions of them can be used to support the goals of the study. Also as explained in a previous question, these lots were identified to use future property taxes to help pay for the garage and other future improvements downtown.
What will be built on these surface parking lots?
As part of the RFP, the City encouraged proposals to develop the lots to include a mix of residential uses: affordable, workforce affordable, market, and possibly ownership opportunities. Along with these proposed uses come first floor commercial options and potentially a municipal facility, all of which were recommended by the Downtown Revitalization Study. Initial proposals have been submitted and the City is working with developers to refine proposals to be considered by the City Council and Planning Board as part of a lengthy public process. This process will likely take 1-2 years before any construction begins and 2-4 years before any project may be ready. Refinements of the projects include working with abutting lots to possibly expand the sizes of projects and develop a plan to preserve or create new parking for the nearby church. The preliminary plans that have been submitted are a starting point, not a final plan for development.
Why is the City developing housing on these lots when there is other land available?
Given the current housing shortage in the region, the City has been working with developers as it has been a goal of the current City Council to create more housing opportunities for all. Any available lots that could support housing development which the City owns have been considered and/or are already being built on. A recent example of this is the affordable senior housing being built at the former Stroudwater Street Ice Rink. Otherwise, the City does not have any other land currently available to support dense housing development that is accessible to pedestrian and transit infrastructure. The plans for constructing housing on the lot that includes the parking garage and Vertical Harvest are still approved and possible. Potential developers of that housing have been hindered with high construction and financing costs which will likely improve in the future. If possible and until built, the City may create temporary parking on this space similar to Saccarappa Park, which we will keep during this transition period.
How much off street public parking was available downtown prior to the construction of a parking garage? How much will be available after the garage is open?
Will all the accessible parking will be lost for the church and nearby businesses.
The City is working with developers to refine their proposals and create new accessible parking or maintain some existing spots for public use, following construction.
Parking garages are unsafe and at risk of fire due to electric charging spaces in the garage.
The City acknowledges that some individuals might feel uneasy about parking in a garage. To enhance safety for all, measures have been taken, including the incorporation of glass stairwells for improved visibility, heightened lighting both inside and around the garage, installation of security cameras and emergency call boxes, as well as the presence of security personnel which is like the setup at One Riverfront Plaza's garage. The parking garage adheres to the most current National Fire Protection Academy (NFPA) codes for fire protection. It's worth noting that the inclusion of electric vehicle charging stations poses no added risk of fire hazard.
Will Main Street need to be closed for an extended period of time for this construction to take place?
Further observation would be needed to ensure whether Main Street would need to be closed or not. It is believed that adequate utilities are available on Church Street for those lots and recent improvements to utilities on Main Street near Mechanic Street and Westbrook Common provided significant utility upgrades to support future growth and development. It is also very likely that all three lots will not be developed at the same time due to extensive planning and funding that would need to take place. If a building were constructed on Main Street between Bank of America and TD Bank, the City has suggested working with one or both of these properties, given the small development envelope of the site. If that were to happen, there would likely be minimal cuts or disruptions into Main Street to connect utilities to a future structure. Given the limited disruptions, there will likely be limited impact to area businesses and some business may increase with construction workers in the area along with future residents once construction is complete.
How soon will construction begin on the projects as we haven’t even finished the current construction?
The planning and development of these projects are anticipated to span several years, with certain phases potentially requiring more time than others. This includes activities such as land acquisition, engineering, and engaging in the public process with the Planning Board. Additionally, securing the necessary financing will occur concurrently with these efforts.
Will the increased density increase traffic downtown?
There is potential that increased development and density could increase traffic. Many choosing to live in downtown housing will do so because they can access stores, services, and public transit within walking distance. Many of the recent downtown investments have supported more capacity for traffic. Pedestrian traffic will certainly increase, resulting in increased business downtown.
Is there a plan to open a hotel downtown?
There are currently no plans to open a hotel downtown though it have been suggested by economic development professionals that there could be a possibility for one in the future if appropriate land acquisition & assembly could be successful in various locations.
It appears that in the RFP and in some proposals, there is mention of a municipal facility. What would that be?
As part of the Downtown Revitalization Study, it has been recommended that the City consider the possibility of locating a municipal facility downtown. Over the years, there have been various proposals to relocate City Hall downtown. As the City continues to grow, our current City Hall has reached capacity. We have suggested to developers that we would be willing to potentially partner with them to locate City Hall as part of a mixed-use building. These are concepts and should that not work out, those proposals will likely be replaced with other potential businesses or more residential uses. Should the City move forward with that idea, the City will consider working with Westbrook Housing, which currently abuts the City Hall location with the possibility of expanding their campus with more affordable housing.
Has the City selected developers to move forward with?
The City has met extensively with developers who submitted proposals in response to the RFP. The City has agreed to move forward with the second phase of the RFP process and work with Great Falls Construction for Lot A and New Ventures/Avesta Housing for Lot B & C. As part of Phase 2 of the RFP process, more due diligence will be done by the developers and refinements to the proposals will be made based on feedback from the City and the public. Following completion of the refinements, workshops will be held with the City Council, with formal public presentations made about the final proposals.
The responses to the RFP can be found here: https://www.westbrookmaine.com/DocumentCenter/Index/174