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Could Rec Center parking ramp provide larger city transit solution?

City staff points to hope that federal funding could create park-and-ride that would also help with parking pressure during big meets and tournaments.

Drone - Rochester Recreation Center
Rochester Recreation Center and 125 Live on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Parking concerns addressed in a proposed agreement between 125 Live and the city could end up benefiting downtown commuters.

During recent discussions of the agreement, which covers a variety of topics related to the nonprofit’s operations in the city-owned facility, Rochester officials pointed to preliminary proposals for a parking structure at the site.

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“We have talked about aligning some of our transportation priorities with this site,” Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said.

City staff have created a rough concept for a parking structure at the Rochester Rec Center site, which would serve the northern end of a defined Broadway Avenue transit corridor.

It would serve as a daily park-and-ride site for downtown commuters, while also providing potential parking during the busiest tournament days at the Rec Center.

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Dale McCamish, the city’s recreation and facilities division head, said building a parking structure for days that swim meets and other events create parking pressure at the site wouldn’t make sense, since it would sit empty most of the year.

“If someone told me we need a ramp (for Rec Center parking), I would laugh,” he said. “I would say, ‘Not for every day – except for 25 days a year.’”

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He said the proposed 125 Live agreement resolves most parking concerns that have existed long before the Rec Center addition that now houses the nonprofit center.

“We had a parking problem before that facility was ever there,” he said, pointing out the 125 Live addition actually added 71 parking spaces to the overall site.

Under the proposed agreement, 125 Live would reserve 84 parking spaces in the lower lot next to the facility during Rec Center events of 600 or more participants, leaving the remaining 475 spots available for meets and tournaments.

Drone - Rochester Recreation Center
Rochester Recreation Center and 125 Live on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

125 Live would encourage members to use the lower entrance on those 20 to 25 days a year, and the city would reimburse the nonprofit with up to $8,000 annually for the use of parking spaces that are otherwise used on a first-come, first-served basis.

McCamish said it still leaves a need for spaces for big events, when people often turn to nearby parking lots. He said efforts to create a shuttle system for swim meets in the past proved costly and largely unused by people who preferred to walk from closer parking lots.

“Parking has always been an issue, and it’s no one’s fault,” Rochester Swim Club CEO Autumn Kappes said.

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125 Live Executive Director Sylwia Bujak Oliver said limiting staff and members to the 84 spaces during special events isn’t ideal, but it is workable.

She said the center typically cancels large fitness classes during the days of big events in the Rec Center, since popular classes can draw larger crowds for a short period and overwhelm the parking lot. By temporarily converting to non-scheduled activities, she said members are more likely to come and go throughout the day, which reduces parking pressures.

Kappes and Bujak Oliver said they see obvious benefits in the proposed parking structure, if the city can make it work.

Aside from adding spaces for special events, Parrish said it would likely help increase access to 125 Live and the Rec Center programs, since it would create new access to the facilities with direct transit routes to the new park-and-ride facility.

“It would be a nice connection for the site to downtown,” he said.

At the same time, he pointed out that discussions are in preliminary stages and aside from proposing a structure with “a couple hundred” parking stalls on two to three stories, little planning is in place as the city puts out feelers for potential federal funding,

“We’ve been doing really good,” Parrish said of other efforts to obtain grants and other funding for city projects. “There is a lot of federal money out there right now.”

He estimated the project could cost $6 million to $7 million and would need to prove it can provide a daily benefit to the city and its residents.

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He said no specific time frame for a potential project exists.

Meanwhile, Parrish and other city staff are working on proposed tweaks to the 125 Live agreement to address concerns raised by Rochester Swimming Inc. and the Rochester Swim Club.

He said a preliminary meeting Monday with swimming representatives and 125 Live leadership went well and discussions continue.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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