ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) – City officials say they plan to develop a downtown parking lot and make other transportation improvements even if Wal-Mart does not agree to locate a store downtown.

“It’s not an if’ issue,” City Manager Brian Searles said this week. “We will pursue the development of that parking lot.”

Searles said the city’s plan for a parking lot between Lake and Kingman Streets is part of a multi-phase downtown development project that will include a transportation center.

Meanwhile a historic preservation group this week unveiled a proposal for a multi-level building downtown that could house a 75,000-square-foot retail space as well as offices.

Paul Bruhn executive director of Preservation Trust of Vermont has presented the site to Wal-Mart Inc. as an alternative to the retail giant’s plan to build a 147,000-square-foot store on the edge of town.

Wal-Mart has repeatedly stated that it has no interest opening a store downtown.

Mayor Peter DesLauriers, however, said he believes the property will be developed.

“I’m very excited,” he said of the Trust concept for downtown. “I think this is the best news the city has gotten in a long time in developing it’s potential.”

DesLauriers said if Wal-Mart does not locate a store in the downtown, another store will.

“We’re not looking for someone to fill a space,” DeLauriers said. “We’re looking at Paul Bruhn saying there is potential here and we’re more than happy to help them fulfill it.”

Bruhn acknowledged the success of the venture depends on the completion of the Federal Street extension project, which would alleviate traffic on Main Street.

Bill Rose, Transportation and Land Use Planner for the Northwest Regional Planning Commission said Searles already has secured a $50,000 from the state to fund an update of the Federal Street extension project. The money will cover updating the study’s figures and hiring a consultant to perform preliminary engineering work.

Rose said the update will begin in November and should be completed in June 2005. Once the update is complete, the NRPC will start looking into funding, he said.

“There is a lot of good stuff going on,” Rose said. “A lot of good ideas.”

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