The Rehoboth parking committee got its first look at a proposed 300-space parking garage and voted unanimously to recommend city commissioners continue to pursue the project.
The proposal is feasible enough to move forward, said committee member Trey Kraus during a committee meeting March 21.
The parking garage was first introduced during a commissioner workshop in early February, and the details from that meeting have not changed.
Colonial Parking President Jed Hatfield said it would be a joint venture of the city, Colonial Parking and EDiS Co., the company that helped manage the construction of the new city hall project.
Hatfield said the idea would be to build a 300-space mobility center on the parking lot east of city hall. He said it’s called a mobility center because in addition to cars, it would serve bikes and scooters and provide a centralized location for Uber or Lyft.
Hatfield estimated the cost of a mobility center at about $10 million. He said the city would lease the land to the joint venture team; EDiS and Colonial Parking would design, build, fund and manage the operation; the city and the joint venture team would share net operating income.
Hatfield told the committee it was too early to discuss the percentage of shared net operating income.
Committee Chair Linda Kauffman, who has a decades-long relationship with Colonial starting when she worked with the parking authority in Allentown, Pa., said she counted 98 spaces in the parking lot right now, so there would be a net gain of roughly 200 spots. She said she didn’t think a garage would solve the city’s parking problems, but it would help.
Committee member Mark Saunders questioned placing liens on city land if banks lend money for the project.
Hatfield said for the project to move forward, that would almost certainly be part of the program. He said as of now, Colonial has based its proposal on free parking during the off-season, mirroring the city's annual parking schedule.
Kauffman said a pro forma on building a garage was done 12 years ago, and she said the garage paid for itself.
Saunders also asked Hatfield how long the leases are for Colonial’s existing public-private partnerships, and how long the contract would be if Rehoboth moves forward with the plan.
Hatfield said the company has a 75-year lease for the parking structure next to New Castle County Courthouse and a 50-year lease for the garage next to the transit center in Wilmington. He said a 50-year lease would be the minium for a Rehoboth facility.
Kraus , who owns Carlton’s on Rehoboth Avenue, said parking issues in Rehoboth are becoming a year-round problem. On St. Patrick’s Day, he said, Rehoboth Avenue was lined with people parking for free, which he said reduced parking for his customers.
Growth outside Rehoboth isn’t stopping anytime soon, and the garage may help with the city’s current parking problems, Kraus said. At the very least, he said, building a garage would erase the perception that the city is doing nothing to solve parking issues.
Kraus said the business model in Rehoboth has changed. Instead of retail stores with a handful of employees and a few customers at a time, the city now has restaurants with dozens of employees and hundreds of customers all at one time.
During the commissioner meeting in February, Commissioner Toni Sharp said she thought one of the discussion points related to parking changes throughout town was trying to create more parking, without actually making more parking. She attended the committee meeting and brought up the same issue.
Kauffman said she thought the city could pursue both avenues. In addition to continuing to pursue the garage, the committee agreed it would look over the parking plan submitted to the city to see if there are any adjustments that can be made.
“I still feel like the previous plan is a good plan that doesn’t need to go by the wayside,” Kauffman said.