FREE Downtown Parking Opening Soon!
The City is excited to announce that after nearly 2 years of construction, our FREE Downtown Parking Garage is slated to open soon! Below please find some brief FAQs about the new parking garage and further below, more detailed FAQs about downtown development in general.
When will the new FREE Downtown Parking Garage open?
We are waiting for final electrical components which have been delayed as they are for many other construction projects. We are hoping that they will be received this fall and the garage will be able to open late 2023 or early 2024.
What will be the cost to park in the parking garage?
There will be no cost to park in the new parking garage. Yes we know that is not common for parking garages but this was critical for the City long term to help support the downtown now and into the future.
What will be the hours of the new FREE Downtown Parking Garage?
The general public will be able to freely enter + exit the Downtown Westbrook Parking Garage from 6am to midnight daily (i.e., 7 days/week even on holidays). Doors will be locked daily from midnight to 6am. and cars will not be allowed to enter/exit.
What has the City done to ensure the parking garage is a safe place to park?
In order to help make the garage as safe a place to park as possible for everyone, glass stairwells were designed for security visibility, increased lighting in & around the garage, security cameras, and emergency call boxes along with staffed security, similar to the garage at One Riverfront Plaza.
Will the FREE Downtown Parking Garage be available for parking during snow emergencies?
The parking garage will be open 24/7 during snow storms. When it snows, the top floor will be a RED ZONE (no parking), but the remaining lower floors will be a GREEN ZONE. When it snows, the parking attendant will leave the gates open when they leave at midnight place signage and cordon off the top floor when it starts snowing to restrict traffic from entering to allow plowing as needed by Public Services or their designee.
When will the housing and retail connected to the garage be done?
The housing and retail component of this project has had challenges with construction and financing costs. That project is still approved and we hope will be developed soon as those costs stabilize.
More Detailed FAQs for Downtown Development
Updated September 26th, 2023
Why is the City doing so much development downtown?
The City adopted a Downtown Revitalization Study in January of 1999 and updated in in January of 2007 to help guide for the future. This plan was also reaffirmed by the current City Council in 2022 to support the development taking place at the Mechanic Street Parking lot with Vertical Harvest and the Parking Garage. The recent RFP and referenced documents can be found here: https://www.westbrookmaine.com/bids.aspx?bidID=92
These plans specifically calls for this type of proposed development to restore downtown activity following the negative affects of urban renewal. The City made changes to zoning decades ago and along with investments of the City, we are finally seeing some of this planning come to fruition. Now that we have invested in a parking garage with free parking, we will have a significant abundance of parking in the downtown. With the current housing shortage, the investment of all housing types downtown and mixed use commercial or municipal uses, will help to support downtown businesses while also increase housing opportunities. All of which is exactly what the plans have called for and many in the community have supported over the years.
Growth and development in the downtown has become more critical with the introduction of Rock Row to the City of Westbrook. In an effort to prevent downtown from becoming stagnant like after Urban Renewal and the construction of the Maine Mall, these efforts help to maintain downtown as focal point for activity in the community.
What has the City invested in to support downtown growth/development?
The City has invested in the following downtown:
- Parking garage at One Riverfront Plaza
- Riverwalk trail and boardwalk in the core of downtown along with improved parking in and around businesses along the river.
- Streetscape improvements surrounding the new Bridge Street Bridge & pedestrian bridge in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation.
- Widening, reconstruction, and signalization improvements for William Clarke Drive & Cumberland Mills.
- Westbrook Common Revitalization and underground utility infrastructure improvements.
- Downtown parking garage and underground utility infrastructure improvements around the site.
- Acquisitions of land from Sappi to support future Riverwalk expansions and river island access.
- Grant funding received to improve ADA accessibility and update of decking for the current riverwalk to be completed this winter.
- Grant received to develop downtown pedestrian safety improvements.
Why did the City of Westbrook build a parking garage downtown?
The parking garage was constructed as recommended by the Downtown Revitalization Studies of 1999 & 2007 and the Downtown Parking Study of 2006. Primarily the garage was built to support the development of Vertical Harvest, housing, retail and general growth/development of the downtown in the future. Vertical Harvest construction is well underway and slated to open in 2024. The housing component of the project has been hindered by construction and financing costs which is also affecting many projects in the region. The housing portion is still approved and slated to be built in the future. The parking garage is slated to open in late 2023.
What will be the cost to park in this parking garage?
The parking garage will be FREE to park in and cannot change during the remaining 28 years of financing. The project was financed using tax-exempt bonds and IRS regulations restricts the City’s ability to charge for parking. Organizations around the garage such as Vertical Harvest or future housing & retail will pay a common area maintenance charge to help operate & maintain the facility.
If there is no cost for the parking garage, how is it funded?
The parking garage is funded through Tax Increment Financing. A new TIF District established in downtown and at a nearby natural gas substation that uses the taxes paid by those businesses to support paying the debt of the garage and future downtown improvements/operations. Common area maintenance charges will help defray operations & maintenance costs as well as cost savings on shared services with our current parking garage operation. The proposed parking lots for future development were included in this district so all taxes generated from those sites would be used to help fund these initiatives.
The last time the City built a parking garage, it was believed to be open to the public. Why didn’t that happen and what will prevent this from happening here?
Those discussions took place over 20 years ago and at the time, the City agreed to lease the entire garage to the owner of the building of One Riverfront Plaza. It was never intended or sized appropriately for general public use. This lease is still in place and the costs paid cover the cost of operations & maintenance of the garage. We have looked into making changes to this agreement with the current building owner unsuccessfully. Many of the operations & maintenance of the current garage can be combined to help minimize future costs of the new garage.
Is it true many of the parking spaces in the new garage are already set aside for Vertical Harvest and/or Maine Health?
There are no reserved parking spaces in the new parking garage. Vertical Harvest is anticipating to generate usage of approximately 25 spaces daily. With the previous lot having approximately 125 spaces and the new garage 407 spaces, we will likely be left with approximately 250 additional free parking spaces.
When the One Riverfront Plaza parking garage was built, there was a letter from the Mayor at the time promising an additional 90 parking spaces to the building owner as part of their financing. This was not approved by the City Council and there is no formal agreement, therefore the City has no legal obligation to provide these spaces nor have they ever been requested. The current owner has never fully utilized the existing garage and since the pandemic are only currently using a small portion though still leases 100% of the garage.
Why would people park in the parking garage when they can park everywhere else now with no issue?
Much of the public parking downtown is time limited to provide turnover parking for businesses. This will not be the case for the parking garage the remaining Ash Street surface lot. The garage will also provide covered parking, a significant advanced during inclement weather.
Prior to the pandemic and any downtown construction, downtown parking restrictions have been in place with various time restrictions and were regularly enforced by a Parking Enforcement Officer. When the pandemic began, the City’s parking enforcement position was eliminated and has not been restored given the construction and change of uses downtown. Limited parking enforcement has been done in the downtown during this time by the Police Department. Once the parking garage is open by the end of 2023, the City will look to restore parking enforcement of current downtown parking regulations. The City will also consider changes to current downtown parking regulations to encourage all longer term daytime parking to be in the new parking garage and shorter term to be on streets and surface lots. This will help to create turnover parking for customers of downtown businesses.
Why is the City considering selling the surface parking lots on Church Street and in between Bank of America & TD Bank?
As part of the Downtown Revitalization Study, it was recommended to encourage growth and development in the downtown area by redeveloping key sites to ensure their consistency with the larger area. The lots once included commercial & residential buildings prior to Urban Renewal and now with an abundance of parking, portions of them can be used to support the goals of the study. Also as explained in question 6, these lots were identified to use future property taxes to help pay for the garage and future improvements downtown.
What will be built on these surface parking lots?
As part of the RFP, the City encouraged proposals to develop the lots to include a mix of residential uses (affordable, workforce affordable, market, and possibly ownership opportunities) along with first floor commercial options and potentially a municipal facility, all of which is recommended by the Downtown Revitalization Study. Initial proposals have been submitted and the City is working with developers to refine proposals to be considered by the City Council and Planning Board as part of a lengthy public process that will likely take 1-2 years before any construction begins and 2-4 years before any project may be ready. Refinements of the projects include working with abutting lots to possibly expand the sizes of a project and also develop a plan to preserve or create new parking for the nearby church. The preliminary plans that have been submitted are starting point, not a final plan for development.
Why is the City developing housing on these lots when there is other land available?
Given the current housing shortage in the region, the City has been working with developers and it has been a goal of the current City Council to create more housing opportunities for all. Any available lots that could support housing development the City owns have been considered and/or are already being built on. A recent example is the affordable senior housing being build at the former Stroudwater Street Ice Rink. Otherwise the City does not have any other land currently available to support dense housing development accessible to pedestrian and transit infrastructure as recommended by the plans. The plans for constructing housing on the lot that includes the parking garage and Vertical Harvest are still approved and possible. Potential developers of that housing have been hindered with high construction and financing costs which will likely improved in the future. If possible and until built, the City may create temporary parking on this space similar to Saccarappa Park which we will keep during this transition period.
How much off street public parking was available downtown prior to the construction of a parking garage? How much will be available after the garage is open?
Will all the accessible parking will be lost for the church and nearby businesses.
The City is working with developers to refine their proposals and work to either create new accessible parking or maintain some existing spots for public use following construction.
Parking garages are unsafe for women and at risk of fire since there will be electric charging spaces in the garage.
The City recognizes that some may feel unsafe when parking in a parking garage. In order to help make the garage as safe a place to park as possible for everyone, glass stairwells were designed for security visibility, increased lighting in & around the garage, security cameras, and emergency call boxes along with staffed security, similar to the garage at One Riverfront Plaza. The parking garage itself is built to the latest National Fire Protection Academy (NFPA) codes for fire protection and electric vehicle charging stations are allowed with no additional risk of fire.
Will Main Street need to be closed for an extended period of time for this construction to take place?
Further due diligence would be needed to ensure the need for Main Street closure or not. It is believed that adequate utilities are available on Church Street for those lots and recent improvements to utilities on Main Street near Mechanic Street and Westbrook Common provided significant utility upgrades to support future growth and development. It is also very likely that all three lots will not be developed at the same time due to extensive planning and funding which would need to take place. If a building were to be built on Main Street in between Bank of America & TD Bank, the City has suggested working with one or both of these properties given the small development envelope of the site. If that were to happen, there would likely be minimal cuts or disruptions into Main Street to connect utilities to a future structure. Given the limited disruptions, there will likely be limited impact to area businesses and some business may increase with construction workers in the area along with future residents once construction is complete.
How soon will construction begin on the projects as we haven’t even finished the current construction?
Planning and development for these projects will likely take a number of years and some parts may take longer than others land acquisition, engineering, and public process with the Planning Board along with necessary financing to take place simultaneously.
Will the increased density increase traffic downtown?
In any case, there is potential that increased development and density could increase traffic. Many who will chose to live in downtown housing will do so because they can access stores, services, and public transit within walking distance. Many of the recent downtown investments have supported more capacity for traffic. Pedestrian traffic will certainly increase resulting in increased business for downtown businesses.
Is there a plan to open a hotel downtown?
There are currently no plans to open a hotel downtown though it have been suggested by economic development professionals that there could be a possibility for one in the future if appropriate land acquisition & assembly could be successful in various locations.
It appears that in the RFP and in some of the proposals there is mention of a municipal facility, what would that be?
As part of the Downtown Revitalization Study, it has been recommended that the City consider the possibility of locating a municipal facility downtown. Over the years there have been various proposals to relocate City Hall downtown. As the City continues to grow, our current City Hall has reached capacity, we have suggested to developers that we would be willing to potentially partner with them to locate City Hall as part of a mixed use building. These are simply concepts and should that not work out, those proposals will likely be replaced with other potential businesses or more residential uses. Should the City move forward with that idea, the City will consider working with Westbrook Housing which currently abuts the current City Hall location with the possibility of expanding their campus with more affordable housing.
Has the City selected developers to move forward with?
The City has met extensively with developers who submitted proposals in response to the RFP. The City has agreed to move forward with the second phase of the RFP process and work with Great Falls Construction for Lot A and New Ventures/Avesta Housing for Lot B & C. As part of Phase 2 of the RFP process, more due diligence will be done by the developers and refinements to the proposals will be made based on feedback from the City and the public. Following completion of the refinements, workshops will be held with the City Council with formal public presentations made about the final proposals.
The responses to the RFP can be found here: https://www.westbrookmaine.com/DocumentCenter/Index/174