Tonight, Portland's City Council considers a purchase and sale agreement to transfer city-owned land in Bayside - the seasonal home of the Bayside Glacier - to MaineHealth, owners of the Maine Medical Center, to build a huge parking garage and 8-story office building:
While it's nice to see some more density and activity coming to this part of town, the City's refusal to shake itself free from the idea that this neighborhood needs another huge parking garage (its fourth, after the new construction of two large garages on Marginal Way and the underutilized, 1970s-era garage two blocks away on Oxford and Chestnut Streets) is a little distressing. The parking garage plan is a stale leftover from 1999's Bayside Plan, which was published when gasoline cost less than $1 a gallon. Unfortunately, the City's done little to question the garage proposal's wisdom in the intervening decade.
Nevertheless, if the neighborhood is going to fill up with 8-to-10 story buildings like the one MaineHealth is proposing, the garage might be put to good use - but only if this is the last parking garage built in the neighborhood. Towards that end, the city needs to put strong conditions on the sale of this land and the management of the parking garage*.
In particular, the garage's rates should be set competitively according to market supply and demand. Furthermore, MaineHealth should be required to provide universal transit passes to all of its employees in this new building, and offer a "parking cash-out" bonus, equivalent to the value of a parking space, to any employee who doesn't drive to work.
A big reason MaineHealth wants to build this garage is to provide a satellite parking lot for its hospital on the West End. That's only OK if MaineHealth pays the true costs of parking and providing employee shuttles, and makes an honest and complete efforts to equalize its provisions for transit, walking, and biking with its provisions for drivers. MaineHealth has had a good start in this regard, by providing preferred parking spaces to carpoolers and discounted transit passes. But more needs to be done... especially in this neighborhood.
Sound off on the Bayside proposal at tonight's City Council meeting, which will probably begin discussing this item around 8 PM in City Hall.
*The garage is being funded, in part, through a community development block grant, funding which is meant to alleviate poverty in poorer neighborhoods. Perhaps the City thinks that providing cheap parking for suburbanites will help Bayside's homeless population by giving them more opportunities to squeegee windshields.