HomeDowntownDowntown Parking: City of Rochester enters 10-year lease agreement for former “Ben...

Downtown Parking: City of Rochester enters 10-year lease agreement for former “Ben Franklin” property

On Tuesday, April 2, City Council voted to unseal minutes from prior nonpublic meetings regarding the former “Ben Franklin” property, located at 60-62 Wakefield Street.

Since purchasing the property was not an option, City Council moved to enter into a lease negotiation with the owner, resulting in a $2MM lease agreement to be distributed over 10 years.

The lease is exclusively for the use of the building and parking lot, which includes approximately 110 spaces that will be used to alleviate downtown parking concerns.

Formed in February 2022, a City Manager’s self-directed Parking Review Group organized an online survey to solicit public input. The survey received 590 responses from community members and business owners.

54.17% of respondents said they visit downtown to eat at restaurants, 11.75% to shop retail, and 10.73% for personal services, such as hair salons, nail bars, facials, etc. 61.86% say they utilize street parking, 61.02% say they use the Union Street lot behind Revolution Taproom, and 30.68% use the North Main Street Lot across from Lilac City Grille.

When asked what barriers exist to finding downtown parking, 70.17% said the availability of nearby parking spaces. To get to their destination, 60.2% said they were willing to walk up to 1 block, which Planning and Development Director, Shanna B. Saunders, considers to be approximately 400 ft.

In late 2024, the Union Street parking lot is slated to close temporarily to allow for a complete redesign, utility upgrades, and other refurbishments. The new design includes additional parking spaces, rain gardens for better drainage, landscaping, and a dumpster corral for nearby businesses to share. Construction for the project is expected to last up to 12 months, conservatively.

Concerns have been raised by residents, customers, and downtown business owners regarding a lack of available nearby parking due to the impending closure, some citing increased downtown housing development as another factor.

According to Director of Economic Development Michael Scala, the new parking lot at the former Ben Franklin property will include public parking spaces and permitted parking options for new downtown residents. As for the building, the Economic Development team will be exploring uses with City Council including those that could generate additional revenue.

“Our first priority will be parking to help our downtown businesses and residents,” said Scala. “Once the parking lot is ready and open to the public, our department will begin exploring potential opportunities to occupy the building and help alleviate some of the cost.”

To learn more about the future of downtown parking and the former Ben Franklin property, stay tuned to upcoming City Council meetings. Public meetings are broadcast live on Comcast Channel 22 and Breezeline (formerly Atlantic Broadband/Metrocast Cablevision) Channel 26. Broadcasts are also available on demand, which includes index points to help viewers navigate to specific agenda items. Visit www.rochesternh.gov for more information.

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