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Woburn

Woburn determined to expand downtown parking facility

Woburn officials are not abandoning the effort to build a downtown parking facility even though the city was turned down in a recent bid for a state grant.

The city had applied for a $5 million MassWorks Infrastructure grant for the $10 million project, which calls for constructing two decks atop its existing surface parking lot on Walnut Hill. But Woburn was not among those awarded funding in this year’s program.

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The rejection followed the city’s unsuccessful bid for a MassWorks grant last year for an earlier version of the project, which is being overseen by the Woburn Redevelopment Authority.

“We’re a little bit disappointed, but not by any stretch of the imagination are we throwing in the towel,” said Mayor Scott D. Galvin. “We are in a much better position to pursue and obtain funding as it becomes available than was the case last year.”

Galvin said the city has hired a project manager and an architect, and the facility’s design is nearly completed.

Edmund Tarallo, Woburn’s planning director, said the city will explore various state and federal funding sources for the project, with another bid for a MassWorks grant one of the options. He noted that the city has always intended to seek other grants to help pay for it.

“We are still proceeding forward on completing the drawings for construction, and at this point we are looking at a financial plan for how to put this together,’’ he said.

The city also will look for ways to reduce the price tag, which is expected to be updated now that about 75 percent of the design is complete, according to Tarallo, who is also the Woburn Redevelopment Authority’s administrator.

In June, the city awarded contracts to Desman Associates to design the project, and Daedalus Projects to serve as project manager. The costs were funded by a $455,000 City Council appropriation and $103,000 from the Woburn Industrial Development and Financing Authority, established more than 30 years ago to help revitalize downtown.

Even as the city focuses on the funding challenge, the project recently cleared a regulatory hurdle when state environmental officials announced that the notification form for the project was sufficient, eliminating the need for a full environmental impact report.

The state received 130 applications seeking a total of about $323 million in the latest round of MassWorks grants, which fund road and other improvements that can help open the way for economic growth. The program awarded 26 grants adding up to $38 million, with the recipients including projects in Beverly, Burlington, Chelsea, and Haverhill.

“The MassWorks Infrastructure Program is a very popular — and competitive — program, and the unfortunate reality is that we cannot give awards to all of the projects for which we receive applications,” Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, said by e-mail. “We are happy to sit down with officials in Woburn to discuss this project and future applications.”

The 2.8-acre Walnut Hill property, off Walnut Street and Montvale Avenue, has 232 free parking spaces for the public, and is the primary downtown municipal lot. The site also has 53 private spaces that are owned and maintained by an adjacent business for its customers.

The parking decks proposed for the site would provide 299 new spaces. However, the structure would eliminate 64 of the existing public and private spaces on the property, so the net gain would be 235 parking slots, going from 285 to 520.  

The adjacent business owner has indicated he supports the project, and the city is working with him to finalize an agreement relating to access to the new surface and deck parking configuration, according to Tarallo.

“We believe we need these number of spaces to continue to be a very viable downtown,” Tarallo said, noting that the construction of deck parking on Walnut Hill was recommended last year by a consultant who studied the area’s current and future parking needs.

Woburn’s downtown has seen some new development the last several years, Tarallo said, “and one of the costs of that growth is that there is more parking demand than there ever has been.”

In addition to the Walnut Hill project, the city had hoped to develop a 60-space parking lot on Magazine Hill, using a city-owned property off Mann’s Court. But it had to drop the plan because of concerns related to the impact of blasting at the site.

The city then revised its plan for Walnut Hill, which originally called for a single deck.

The city is also looking for ways to better manage its parking spaces. Tarallo said whether or not the decks get built, the city will likely be applying some of the management strategies to Walnut Hill, including potentially instituting a fee for parking in the municipal spaces.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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