Presented with four locations for the construction of a new parking structure in Breckenridge, town council finally settled on the Tiger Dredge parking lot as the best option.
With council coming to a general consensus on the location during Tuesday's work session, town manager Rick Holman said Breckenridge is ready to take the next step with the long-anticipated project that could ease one of the town's most pervasive and closely followed issues — public parking.
"We want to be clear," Holman said. "We're not studying it anymore; we're designing it."
Town officials are pursuing more detailed designs at Tiger Dredge and it remains a long way from a done deal.
“What council has decided on is well short of the 500 incremental spaces in (the) core of town with the bulk of new spaces at the ice rink. The ice rink is not in (the) core of town and is certainly not skier parking.”John Buhler Breckenridge Ski Resort COO
Council will need to approve the new designs and find a way to pay for the project, and the town must get approval from the state transportation department before any real work can begin.
"There's a lot of work to do between now and, hopefully, the next 10 months or so," Holman said. However, if everything goes according to schedule, he told council, work on a new parking structure at Tiger Dredge could get underway as early as next year.
In trying to decide where to build, council looked at the pros and cons, rankings and cost estimates at four different locations, all detailed in a report produced by Walker Parking Consultants.
The firm was hired by the town in April to study Breckenridge's options for a new parking garage at the four locations identified by the town. In addition to Tiger Dredge, the other three sites considered were the adjacent parking lots at East Sawmill and Wellington, F-Lot and the ice arena.
For the report, Walker Parking Consultants produced two options for each site, and offered up preliminary sketches to give council an idea of what each option might look like and how it could function.
Representatives of the firm said they considered more than two scenarios for each of the four sites but only included the two most appealing options for each one.
To compare the eight different options against each other, the consultants took into account increased parking capacity, impact on traffic, walkability to downtown and transit connections, cost per space gained, year-round usage, impact on the historic district and community as a whole, and the overall cost.
Both options at East Sawmill and Wellington and one option at Tiger Dredge were presented as the most appealing.
However, seeing that building at East Sawmill and Wellington would effectively cut off the existing alleyway there and leave one of the structure's walls facing traffic on Main Street, council expressed no interest in pursuing either option and scuttled any further aims to build there.
"I don't like Wellington at all," Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said during discussions. "On Main Street, to put a 50-year structure where you have a front on our historic Main Street on that north end, and then it covers the alley, to me, it's a no-go."
Other council members agreed, and Mayor Eric Mamula came out in favor of the first option at Tiger Dredge, which would occupy some of the land at F-Lot, provide direct access to transit connections and the Riverwalk Center, and effectively provide a new connection between Adams and Park avenues.
The structure could be built in phases and add 234 additional parking spaces at a cost of $8.9 million, according to the consultants' report. However, cons include a limited potential for future expansion and a slightly higher cost per additional space.
The mayor said he especially liked the idea of a low-profile building built at grade that didn't affect any nearby sight-lines. However, he added that building at Tiger Dredge would likely preclude building a parking structure at F-Lot, but could mean other developments on the property in the long term.
The consultants added that council could look at any of the options alone, or a combination of them, to address Breckenridge's parking problems now and in the future.
In addition to deciding to move forward with designs at Tiger Dredge, council also instructed town personnel to continue studying parking structure designs at the ice rink, though there appears to be much less support for moving on that project before beginning construction at Tiger Dredge.
However, Tuesday's debates didn't come without some criticism.
Chief operating officer for Breckenridge Ski Resort John Buhler twice reiterated the resort's position — once at the work session and again during the regular council meeting later in the day — that council has reneged on a promise made before the November 2015 election, when voters approved a new sales tax on lift tickets, to build a new parking structure at F-Lot.
"For months, the Breckenridge Town Council furiously campaigned on a promise that 500-700 (parking spaces) needed to be and would be built in the core of town on F-Lot," Buhler said. "All studies were done, they said. All they needed was a lift-ticket tax to pay for the structure and related traffic-transit improvements, they said.
"Two years later," he continued, "what council has decided on is well short of the 500 incremental spaces in (the) core of town with the bulk of new spaces at the ice rink. The ice rink is not in (the) core of town and is certainly not skier parking."
In response, Mayor Eric Mamula, who along with half of the current council wasn't elected until April 2016, after those promises would have been made, contended the town has already green-lighted roughly 600 new parking spots at the ice rink and is doing what it can to address the parking problem.
"I get it that you guys don't like the ice rink," the mayor said, "but we can't put (500-700) more at F-Lot, we can't put (that many) more at Tiger Dredge, (and) I don't think Sawmill-Wellington is really viable, and those are our options."
Over the last couple meetings, council members have repeatedly expressed an interest in working with the ski resort on public planning issues but said the resort has little interest in working with them until it sees council commit to building a massive 500-space parking structure at F-Lot.
That seems highly unlikely with the makeup of this council, but the mayor added, "If Vail Resorts (owner of Breckenridge Ski Resort) decides there's another solution that's next to the gondola and we can partner up, I am willing to work with you. I know the rest of the council is willing to work with you and your bosses to make that happen."