Garage nears its debut
by Jay Hamburger
OF THE RECORD STAFF
The new Swede Alley parking garage, delayed from its original targeted opening date just before Christmas, will make its debut during Presidents Day weekend, traditionally one of the busiest three-day stretches of the ski season.
The new opening date is notable because it is at the beginning of what is usually a lucrative part of the ski season, starting with the holiday weekend and lasting through the end of March, when lots of people visit during spring break.
The garage, located just north of the China Bridge parking structure, has been under construction since the beginning of May. Crews encountered delays and Colin Hilton, who directs capital projects for City Hall, said the construction is currently 10 weeks behind schedule.
After missing the pre-Christmas opening, the government projected that the garage would be ready in January. Hilton this week blamed the delay on a concrete shortage, which the city had previously identified as the chief reason for the revised timetable.
Hilton said City Hall wants to open the garage on Feb. 17, the Friday before Presidents Day. The holiday is on Feb. 20. He expects that the garage will be substantially complete by 5 p.m. Feb. 17, which will allow the structure to be opened.
However, the crews will have to push to meet the schedule, he said. He said he "put the screws down" on Jacobsen Construction, the firm building the garage.
"We’re going to be working some long hours," Hilton said, noting that crews are working every day and that the crews will be at the site two shifts each day.
Hilton said the concrete has been poured on each floor and that the crews are now pouring concrete for guard walls and two stairwells. The majority of the concrete has been poured, he said.
City officials and Main Street merchants have been awaiting the completion for much of the fall and winter. The garage is City Hall’s most ambitious Old Town project since the transit center on Swede Alley was built just before the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The garage, priced at $5.75 million, will hold 305 cars. The city will net a little less than that number of parking spaces, though, because some spots on Swede Alley were lost to construction. The price tag has stayed the same through the delays because the government’s deal with the builders prevents increases.
Merchants for years had pressed the government to build a new garage. They argued and studies confirmed that there were not enough parking spaces in the Main Street core to handle the traffic during the busiest times of the year, leaving drivers circling the street and Swede Alley looking for a spot to park.
The supporters, primarily on Main Street, said that a new garage was needed to make the street more competitive with other shopping destinations that have more parking spots, especially those at Kimball Junction.
The Park City Council won lots of support when the elected officials budgeted the money for the project and there was not organized opposition.
"When every parking space is full on Main Street, there are still a lot of restaurants with empty chairs and stores without bodies in them," said City Councilwoman Candy Erickson, who supports the project.
Erickson, however, hopes that the government complements the new garage with a park-and-ride lot outside of downtown, which has been discussed most recently in the aftermath of January’s busy Sundance Film Festival.
But details of that lot have not been discussed and Erickson said, without such a facility, the new garage is needed.
"For now, that was the only way we could keep people coming to Main Street and having a good experience," Erickson said.
Erickson said she is not worried about the delays at the construction site. She said Main Street businesses have had a profitable ski season anyway.
"I’ve heard people are busy and restaurants are good," she said, adding that she has been told that waiters and waitresses are getting good tips this winter.
There have not been widespread complaints that business dipped during the winter even though some of the parking on Swede Alley has been closed for the construction. Several businesses this week reported that the winter was good.
"We really haven’t seen any drop off in business," said Mike Croft, the assistant manager of Images of Nature, a photography gallery on Main Street.
He said sales have been strong throughout the winter.
Croft said some customers have talked to him about a lack of parking but said the complaints were "nothing very severe, that’s for sure."
Jeff Ward, from The Spur nightclub and 350 Main Brassiere, both on Main Street, said business is good at both locations. He said he is happy that the garage is being built and said it will allow traffic to flow better in the existing China Bridge structure.
Both of the businesses sit steps from the construction zone but the customers have not been unhappy, Ward said.
"They don’t walk in saying, ‘What’s going on?’" he said.
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The sculpture first resided along Main Street and was moved to the intersection of Kearns Boulevard and Bonanza Drive years later.