AUBURN — The city is marketing several downtown properties for development, including a heavily-utilized parking area on Main Street.

Officials say putting the city-owned lot at 131 Main St. up for sale is part of a long-term vision for the larger downtown area, and that it’s tied to the planned relocation of the Police Department.

The lot is currently used by people looking for convenient parking near downtown businesses, but officials said the adjacent parking garage at Auburn Hall is mostly underutilized.

Jay Brenchick, director of Economic Development, said there has been some development interest for the lot, but said the city has not yet received a detailed proposal. He believes a project there could take a little more time, and the city is hoping developers can “bring creative ideas to the table.”

Another city-owned parcel, at 186 Main St., could be closer to reality, he said. The lot overlooks the river, and Brenchick said a number of developers have shown interest in some type of restaurant or brewery space, with market rate apartments above.

He said the developers interested in the Main Street parking lot could be watching to see what happens with the nearby parcel, and with the proposed “eatertainment center” development in New Auburn.

But, he said, Auburn is not planning to “jump at the first offer” for 131 Main St. He described the parking lot as “a bit unusual” for developing, and that they’d still like to see “something that meets the needs of the downtown.”

Area business owners have a range of opinions about the lot potentially going away.

Roger Blais, owner of Roger’s Haircutters on Main Street, said he’s hoping the lot isn’t developed, adding most of his clients use the Main Street lot because of other street parking being taken, or seeing the first two floors of the parking garage full.

“From 4 p.m. on, you can’t find a place to park,” he said, adding most people “don’t understand the logistics of the parking garage.”

Blais believes he’s not alone, and that several other area business owners are concerned.

“We all depend on that lot,” he said.

Brenchick said if a serious offer was received, the city would communicate with local business owners. He listed off several things the city could envision there, including apartments that could utilize a catwalk from the garage, or a building that uses “podium parking,” maintaining the parking underneath.

“We want it to blend into the downtown, we still want (the downtown) to have plenty of parking,” he said.

When asked, Brenchick said he hasn’t heard any negative feedback about the property being for sale. He also said that with simple signage upgrades, the city can drive more people toward the parking garage. He said other than police department vehicles on the ground floor, the garage largely sits empty.

In recent weeks, city officials have reviewed plans for upgrading public safety buildings, which includes a proposal to build a new police headquarters and expanded fire station at the Central Fire location on Minot Avenue.

Officials have said that when the police station moves out of Auburn Hall, it would open even more of the parking garage for downtown parking. But, that move would not likely occur until at least 2025, opening the possibility that a development could displace the Main Street lot before that.

Other area properties for sale include an adjacent parcel on Mechanics Row, the property at 261 Main St. and nearby properties at 15 Academy St. and the former St. Louis Church.

Mayor Jason Levesque said marketing the properties is part of a larger vision for the downtown area that city staff and elected officials have shown support for. Officials also conducted a recent study looking at renovating Festival Plaza.

Levesque said he’s hoping something at 131 Main St. can be an “anchor spot” for the area, and part of the long-term plan is focused on walkability, saying, “you can’t have a city if it’s all parking lot.”

Carl Lalemand, owner of Design by Skip located across from the lot on Main Street, said he travels a fair amount, and doesn’t see Auburn as having a walkable downtown like many other cities.

Lalemand said losing the Main Street parking lot could be an issue for some people, but said compared to other cities, Auburn has ample parking and that he’d welcome more development in the neighborhood.

“There’s more than enough parking in the garage to accommodate losing the parking lot,” he said.

But, he cautioned, he’s hoping officials “don’t destroy (the downtown area) in the process of building it up.”

Calls to several other downtown business owners were not returned by the Sun Journal’s print deadline Tuesday.


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