When voters approved money in 2006 for the new library in downtown Vancouver, they were told that a parking garage would follow with 200 public parking spaces for library patrons. But proponents of the project weren't expecting a recession to hit in 2007.
The recession and its aftermath now put the future of better library parking in jeopardy, some Vancouver community leaders told state lawmakers in Olympia this session. They're throwing their support behind a bill that would protect the parking garage's future by extending the construction window.
The new library at C Street and East Evergreen Boulevard was proposed as part of a mixed-use development project aimed at boosting the city's economy. Formerly called Riverwest, the Library Square development by Killian Pacific is envisioned to include new apartments, office spaces and retailers, a central plaza and the underground parking garage.
But if the state money for the project falls through, Killian Pacific plans to scale back the project to only office buildings and a surface parking lot with no spaces for library patrons, Patty Reyes, operations director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, said recently in Olympia.
"We average 1,500 people a day coming into that (library)," Reyes said. "It has a nationally awarded early-learning center. … The biggest complaint we have right now is, we don't have any parking."
The library has a small lot with 64 spaces off East Evergreen Boulevard. There are 36 free, two-hour diagonal slots on West Reserve Street, as well as metered parking on nearby blocks.
As it is, even disabled-access slots in the surface lot are one full city block away from the library's lone entrance. Disabled or elderly visitors who have drivers might make use of the C Street loading zone near the library entrance, before their driver parks. The library was built with a spot
for an elevator near the door to transport patrons to and from the future garage.
About $15 million for the proposed Library Square parking garage is paid for through the state's Local Infrastructure Financing Tool program, which gives local governments a sales and use tax credit for economic development projects. The program started in 2006, and LIFT money has been approved for projects in nine cities across the state.
The program comes with deadlines, however, and the recession has made it impossible for Library Square developers to meet the original deadline to start construction.
The LIFT program allows local governments to create a taxing district in which state sales and use taxes are set aside for a specific economic stimulus project, such as Library Square. The tax credit expires in 2039, and the program is on a 25-year financing plan. Without an extension, construction would have to start next year at the latest, said Alisa Pyszka, an economic development manager with the city of Vancouver.
"We would need to start construction next year on this multifaceted project so we can maximize that 25-year allocation within the LIFT project and still meet that deadline of 2039," Pyszka said, adding that developers aren't ready to do that. "What we need is extra time so we can build a sustainable, economically viable mixed-use project."
A bill by state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, would extend the program's expiration to 2044 in order to meet the needs of the Library Square developers.
"This bill corrects the unintended consequences of the original LIFT program," Wylie said during a recent public hearing on the bill. "The starting date needs to be delayed in order to have the full build-out of the project."
House Bill 1306 is co-sponsored by Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver; and Liz Pike, R-Camas. A companion bill in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and co-sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.
The proposal passed out of the House on Saturday with a vote of 81-16.
Those testifying in support of Wylie's bill said that if developers can't get the state tax credit for the parking garage, their scaled-back project, featuring an office building and a private parking lot, will bring only about $1.4 million in revenue to Vancouver and $7 million in revenue to Washington.
If the project is fully realized, however, it could return about $8 million in revenue to the city and $22 million to the state during a 25 year period, Pyszka said.