Parking decks redevelopment to expand uses

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton will prepare a request for proposals to redevelop one or more of the large parking decks on the waterfront. The city is seeking a more efficient use of the space than the decks, which were built about 40 years ago.

HOUGHTON — When the large parking decades were built on Houghton’s waterfront about 40 years ago, the waterfront surrounding it was “mud and railroad ties,” said Eric Waara, Houghton’s city manager.

As the city improved the waterfront area, the parking deck areas stuck out. Wednesday, the city council approved having city staff prepare a request for proposals to redevelop one or more of the decks into more efficient, mixed-use properties.

“Instead of someone just coming to us, ‘Here’s what we want to do,’ it helps put us in the driver’s seat for how we want it to turn out,” said Waara.

The city will review the proposals, with the council eventually voting on one. That would lead to the sale and development of the property in a manner judged to be in the city’s best interest, according to a memo from Waara to the council.

Waara said he recently had conservations with two potential developers interested in redevelopment projects in the city.

Parking will still be an important element of any project, he said.

“Right now, the way the decks are built, they’re a pretty inefficient use of space,” he said. “Even as a parking deck, it’s very inefficient. However we frame this in a request for proposals is going to have to address the parking component.”

The city’s 2009 downtown marketing plan identified the condition of the decks as a weakness for downtown, as based on a survey of residents.

“They show obvious signs of wear and are perceived as impractical,” the report stated.

Suggestions in the report included consolidating decks to free up space for other residential or community development projects.

Waara said any of the uses elsewhere in the downtown could be done in the space, whether commercial, residential or a mix.

“It ultimately would come down to a potential developer looking at a business plan for what they want there,” he said. “It might not be one thing, it might be multiple things.”

Whatever solution comes up will also have to maintain semitruck access to Lakeshore Drive for businesses such as Swift’s Hardware and 5th and Elm, Waara said.

Waara said the city would like to have a request for proposals released by early March. Proposals would probably be received for review sometime in the early summer, he said.