HP's Mayor and City Council need to take immediate action to resolve the incredible hardship the closure of Port Clinton Garage and the HP Theater are having on local businesses. There will be time aplenty to determine how this happened. Today ... right now ... the City must stop posturing and start making things right.
Photos shown at last nights Emergency City Council meeting left no doubt that there is something terribly wrong with the fire protection systems... and the City's diligence in guarding the public's safety. Having seen those images I am now reluctant to suggest the system would provide much protection at all if needed. And that, in turn, seems to make an early reopening of the garage less feasible than I had thought and hoped.
Unless I'm missing something, this is going to take a while.
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Focusing on the Port Clinton Garage, I suggest the City immediately ...
1. Reach out to the Chicago Fire Department for possible paths towards re-opening the garage under a fire watch or other arrangement. Chicago has many enclosed garages without sprinkler systems and they may have useful suggestions.
2. Immediately contact qualified fire suppression contractors (there are only 4 or 5) and request "design build" bids/solutions for the system replacement while at the same time asking for temporary repair bids/solutions. The building department should immediately begin searching records for plans (and hopefully shop drawings) of the existing system and the buildings Architect (Rick Strusiner, I believe) should be contacted. If shop drawings are available it is not unreasonable to expect quotes within 48 hours of initial contact and for work to begin within 48 hours of bid letting. (FYI, $1000 is the typical cost associated with sprinkling a parking space. It may be more considering the need for urgency and demolition and removal of existing components).
3. Renaissance Place should be opened for Free Parking without restriction. Signage should immediately be installed and memo's sent to all local employers. (I have street median signs, previously approved by the police department and public works, that could be used). The North portion of the garage could be made available for Port Clinton's Valet service. The South portion should not be used for that purpose so that it remains available for customers.
4. The North end of the parking lot east of the train tracks, just south of Elm has historically been the City's least utilized lot. This lot should be used for Port Clintons' valet service. The IC lots are other good locations for valet parking.
5. Free Valet parking should be made available to retail customers using the east bound turn-out in front of Walker Brothers as the staging area as that location is visible and convenient. Experience has shown less convenient and visible locations (like the turn out west of Port Clinton) will not be very useful. I wouldn't expect a lot of customer use, but providing that Valet service would be an important show of solidarity and concern.
6. Increase enforcement of customer two hour on street and three hour parking lots so employee's displaced from Port Clinton do not crowd out customers that are the lifeblood of the 100 + businesses in the area.
7. The Police Department should take on a more visible foot patrol presence Downtown to direct traffic, answer questions and to show merchants and businesses the City's concern and support. I'd even suggest putting an officer "on the dot" at the intersection of Central and Second Street.
8. The Mayor (or Chairman of ICPC) should immediately call an Emergency Session of that Commission to pursue other measures that might provide interim parking solutions.
9. The Mayor (or Chairman of BEDC) should call an Emergency Session of that Commission to pursue a City funded marketing effort for implementation immediately upon the garages reopening and to consider other ways to support local businesses affected by the City Garage closing.
10. The City should announce the creation of an independent task force .. or charge the Board of Police and Fire Commisioners ... to investigate how this happened and prevent its reoccurance.
For the past decade, this City had demonstrated a palpable disregard for the existing business community in general and the Downtown Business District in particular. At a minimum, the City has failed to reinvest in the business district upon which its revenues depend. Arguably, it has disregarded its obligation to maintain and promote the safety and well being of businesses and the community image it projects. This is the time for the City to begin righting those wrongs.
I regret the City and its business are now confronted with the situation. I believe the above measures will provide some relief and will demostrate a sense of concern for this very difficult situation that will lead toward a safer, more vibrant and economically productive source of City revenues and community pride.