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Houghton exploring how to pay for parking deck demolition

With an estimated price tag of one-million dollars, how to pay to tear down the aging downtown parking deck is as complicated a problem for the Houghton City Council as figuring out what to replace it with. Manager Eric Waara gave a presentation at Wednesday’s meeting, laying out a potential plan.

First the body heard from Pat Coleman, organizer of two nights of public engagement on the subject last fall. He said that there were several ideas proposed during the events, and a mixed use development was the most consistent choice. Coleman said that a multi-story building, with retail on the lower level and housing opportunities in the upper floors, combined with an efficient parking lot on the rest of the site would be the safest option to pursue.

Waara says there could be a way to finance both phases of the project at once, with help from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

MEDC has a grant opportunity out there called Revitalization and Placemaking through the American Rescue Plan. It’s a 50 percent match up to a million dollars. Applications are due this spring.

If the city moves quickly, demolition could be possible by late fall. Waara wants to take on debt, paid back in 10 to 15 years, which would limit payments to between $95,000 and $130,000 annually.

Leveraging the bonded amount into a grander endeavor, Houghton could potentially embark on a streetscape project helping to turn Lakeshore Drive into another business artery for the downtown. Waara proposes all-season connections between Lakeshore Drive and Shelden Avenue on city-owned property near 5th and Elm Coffee Shop and another location further west, closer to Quincy Street. He thinks that businesses with entrances underneath the deck will benefit from turning the space into a gateway to the waterfront.

If the city cannot win a grant, Waara suggests looking at selling the property in a piecemeal fashion. He believes he can get between $400,000 and $600,000 for the land. Other municipal parcels could be available as well. Since there is likely a difference in when the city will incur costs and when it will recognize revenue under any possible financing plan, Waara says it is prudent to use Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements related to the Father’s Day Flood as a short-term funding source.

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