Plans for a 725-space parking garage to be built at the entrance to historic downtown Annapolis are nearing fruition. The Maryland Board of Public Works recently approved a nearly $20 million contract to Gaithersburg-based Coakley Williams Construction Inc. to design and build the facility.
The 241,000-square-foot garage, slated to open in fall 2007, will be at Bladen and Calvert streets with four stories above ground and one below. Although the garage will be for the exclusive use of state employees during business hours, it will be open to the public on nights and weekends, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in a statement last week.
Support for the project has not been unanimous. Several local activists and civic leaders, concerned about the facility's cost and potential for marring the city's historic skyline, urged the Board of Public Works to consider less-expensive alternatives.
"We were definitely disappointed with the decision," said Heather McColl, executive director of the Annapolis Regional Transportation Management Association, an advocacy group funded in part by the Maryland Transit Administration.
The group suggested expanding and encouraging the use of the existing shuttle service for state employees, which carries workers from parking lots next to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to downtown Annapolis.
"We also wouldn't have as many cars coming into the city," McColl said.
Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of General Services, disagreed. "We certainly understand that less-congested traffic is better, but we're replacing parking we already had," he said.
Humphrey was referring to an earlier land swap for a public housing property and an expansion of the House of Delegates office building that cost the state nearly 400 parking spaces. The new facility will add approximately 325 spaces more than those lost. Humphrey emphasized that the new facility's location would keep drivers using it out of the downtown area, thus reducing congestion.
"The employees who will be parking in this garage are not working downtown; they will be parked at the fringe of the historic district," he said. Humphrey also noted that the parking shortage was worst during the legislative session, one of the busiest times of year for the city.
"During those four months, parking is at a premium," he said.
McColl noted concern about the project's cost, shared by other advocacy groups and city agencies.
"We felt the money could probably be better spent enhancing the transportation infrastructure in the city and county, which could help more people in the long term," she said.
According to Humphrey, however, the state spends about $900,000 annually to lease the parking lots at the stadium and operate the shuttle service. That figure would most likely increase over the years, he said, making the new parking facility more economically expedient in the long term.
"As we mentioned before, the garage will also provide parking for tourists and the general public on nights and weekends, and during Navy football games at the stadium," he said.
McColl acknowledged the improved utility for the public but remained skeptical.
"I do appreciate that this provides more parking to visitors after business hours and on the weekends, but frankly that wasn't really a problem," she said. "I don't know if there was really ever a need there."
But she conceded that it was too late for her group to do anything but "make the best of it."