Posted Jan. 24, 2016 at 3:57 PM
Updated Jan 24, 2016 at 4:17 PM
NEW BEDFORD — A $5 million project scheduled to start in the spring aims to upgrade the Elm Street Municipal Garage and make the aging structure safer and more appealing to potential users.The garage, which dates back to the 1970s, is “dark, dank’’ and “underutilized,’’ said Ari Sky, chief financial officer for the city.
“It’s a real resource for downtown,’’ he said. “It’s got to look nice.’’
The project will not use taxpayer money, Sky said, but will be paid for by a $511,524 Federal Lands Access Program grant and the downtown parking enterprise fund, which is supported by parking fees.
Current conditions at the garage make it a “less desirable parking location,’’ according to information provided by the city and presented to the City Council.
“Visitors’ perceptions of security in the garage are a critical consideration for achieving higher usage,’’ according to the information. “The single most significant factor is ensuring that there is adequate, uniform lighting without dark areas.’’
Lighting plays a key role in keeping buildings safe, said Detective Capt. Steven Vicente, public information officer for the city Police Department. “Lighting is extremely important,’’ he said. Well-lit areas tend to be less vulnerable to crime, he said.
Police have responded to car breaks and complaints of loitering at the garage, Vicente said.
Police have used specialized patrols downtown at the Elm Street and Zeiterion parking garages to stop people from staying there overnight.
Capt. Joseph Cordeiro, commander of the downtown police station, has said there have been problems with people urinating and defecating in the garage.
The garages are posted for no trespassing.
The first phase of the project is scheduled to begin in the spring and will include a series of improvements, including structural repairs and stabilization, enhancing the curb appeal and appearance of the facade, redesigning and installing new lighting and security for all interior spaces, and installing auto-pay units in both the Elm Street and Zeiterion garages.
The first phase will cost an estimated $3.1 million.
These changes will create a “wow factor,’’ Skye said.
The second phase will include resurfacing the concrete deck, replacing deteriorating parking stops and installing a fire prevention system.
With the installation of auto pay, two positions are scheduled to be replaced, Sky said, although the employees may be reassigned, he said.
The work will be done in phases, Sky said, and it is unlikely that the entire lot would have to be closed for an extended period.
“I think it’s going to look terrific,’’ Sky said. “It’s going to be such an image booster.’’