Officials set date for parking ramp demolition

Michelle Moriarity

After several years of delay, University transit officials finalized plans this week to tear down the East River Road Parking Ramp, a move that will displace hundreds of commuters next year.
Officials will send out letters to parking contract holders today announcing the demolition, which is scheduled for late fall, as well as contract plans for the future East River Road Garage.
With the loss of almost 1,700 parking spaces, students, staff and faculty will relocate to various parking facilities throughout campus as officials displace commuters according to their contract type.
“It will inconvenience people,” said Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services. “We’ll ease that inconvenience as much as we’re capable of.”
Levels two and three of the five-story ramp will close on June 30, when temporary contracts expire. Motorists with these contracts can relocate to the Buckeye Commuter Lot at the northeast corner of the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex. An additional 800 spaces could also open for these commuters next year with the construction of a one-level deck over the Huron Boulevard complex.
Permanent contract holders must move to either the Oak Street Ramp or the Fourth Street Ramp by Oct. 1. Parking officials guarantee these commuters a spot in the new structure when it opens.
Public parking will be available in the ramp until Oct. 1, when preparation begins for the November or December demolition.
Years of structural problems resulting in falling concrete and debris plagued parking officials and ramp users.
The ramp, which was built in 1966, is the oldest above-ground parking facility on campus. Since then, it has undergone several renovations to repair infrastructural damage such as rusting beams and stress cracks, which have resulted in concrete erosion.
Parking officials spent $50,000 per year for the last five years on East River Road Ramp repairs to put off demolition.
In 1993, experts deemed the ramp hazardous and declared that it should be torn down. But Baker said parking services could not handle the revenue loss at that time.
Since then, officials have further postponed demolition.
In 1996, University officials delayed the project because they agreed to accommodate overflow parking triggered by the Fairview-University hospital merger.
Planners once again deferred demolition in 1997 because they wanted new construction to coincide with tentative Coffman Union renovation plans.
Officials said the timing is finally right for the ramp to be demolished.
Construction will begin for the new East River Road Garage in spring 1999. The 1,200 vehicle structure will leave room for potential new construction on the south side of Comstock Hall.
Eight hundred parking spaces in the garage will be reserved for permanent contract holders. The remaining 400 spaces will accommodate daily public parking. There will be no space reserved for temporary contract holders. The garage is expected to open in fall 2000.
While officials grapple with construction plans, commuters expressed their dismay at sacrificing convenient parking.
Madge Danielson, a nurse at Boynton Health Service, said that although she will not mind walking from her parking spot to Boynton, that option may not be desirable to others.
“They’ll have to have a shuttle,” Danielson said. “Not everyone can walk that far.”
Baker said Campus Connectors will run more often next year to accommodate the influx of parking in the Huron Boulevard complex.
Coffman Union businesses could also be affected by the construction. Maggie Towle, the union’s director, said vendors could experience a decrease in business volume similar to what occurred during construction of the Biological Sciences building.
She added, however, that parking for University visitors will be much more of a challenge.
“If there’s any way we can add short-term parking around Coffman, it would be great,” Towle said. “But we just have to see what happens.”
Baker said garage construction is scheduled to complement renovation plans for Coffman Union and the South Mall project, which proposes extending Northrop Mall to the Mississippi River.
Clint Hewitt, senior vice president for master planning, said parking, housing and Coffman officials must work together to achieve the master plan objective — projects that are synchronized with each other.
“There is a great need for cooperation,” Hewitt said.
“We’ve been at the table together from day one,” Towle added.
According to a time line presented at the last Board of Regents’ meeting, planners will work on a South Mall design during the next six months. Construction plans for the mall are indefinite. Only housing and parking facilities have tentative construction dates.
Though the University community can expect mayhem from the construction during the next two or three years, Baker is enthusiastic about the final results.
“(The construction) is going to raise havoc for a couple of years and then it’s going to be gone,” Baker said.