After a three-year struggle involving state officials and city merchants, the new Bladen Street parking garage is open to the public on weekday evenings and weekends, Annapolis officials announced.
The 725-space garage, which was completed last month at the corner of Calvert Street, will offer free parking on weekends and from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays. Any vehicles left after 6 a.m. will be towed.
Local business owners were pleased with the Friday announcement.
"I think it's fantastic," said Chance Walgran, a member of the Annapolis Business Association. "We've been pushing for this for a long time."
The $20 million parking garage, also known as the Calvert Street Garage, was initially open only to state workers when the General Assembly reconvened last month.
"We asked for years that it be open for citizen use in the off-hours," said Chuck Weikel, the city's parking coordinator. "The state didn't say no, but they just deferred the issue."
When Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor, his administration promised that the garage would be made available to the public, said Ward 1 Alderman Richard Israel. At the end of Ehrlich's term, however, it was not clear what the state intended to do.
Israel, who has proposed extensive legislation about parking in downtown Annapolis, wrote letters to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Gov. Martin O'Malley, asking them to push for public use of the garage.
"The parking garage is going to be a great benefit to the residents who like to attend evening programs at St. John's College, for example," Israel said.