Planned, paid for Edinburg parking garage not enough to meet projected need

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EDINBURG — Plans to construct a three-story parking garage here will not be sufficient to meet growing parking needs in a downtown district that will soon draw increased traffic from the new county courthouse, a multipurpose arts and event center, and an amphitheater.

Officials here learned about how the three-story structure — which is expected to accommodate approximately 250 vehicles, and will include leasable retail space — will fall well short of the 750 parking spaces Edinburg’s downtown will need to accommodate over the next decade.

The parking deficit was discovered as part of a needs assessment and economic analysis whose conclusions were presented during a joint meeting of the Edinburg City Council and Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors on Tuesday.

Edinburg has already funded the parking garage, but has yet to give staff the final go-ahead to set the project out for bid.

According to Mayor Ramiro Garza Jr., that’s due, in part, to a series of questions that arose as staffers began to progress the project.

“City staff presented to hire an architect … but as that happened, I started asking questions about, have we done a needs assessment? How do we know how many parking spaces we need? Have we done a revenue analysis?” Garza said after the joint meeting.

Ultimately, the mayor learned those questions had not been answered prior to the city council and EDC approving millions of dollars in debt in 2021 to fund the parking garage and other projects.

With that debt already issued, Edinburg is obligated to see the projects through.

“The issue is we only have so much funding and the city and the EDC have already issued these bonds,” Garza said during the meeting.

But the mayor wanted to know what the actual need for parking will be in the city’s downtown, which led to the commission of the needs assessment and economic analysis, led by ERO Architects.

Edinburg City Hall on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The study examined what the parking needs for the area would be irrespective of the existence of the parking garage, explained Brian Godinez, chief marketing officer for ERO Architects.

“We didn’t look at the fact that the city was actually engaged in the construction and the process and design of a parking garage. We focused on the downtown area and the need for how many parking stalls over the next 10 years,” Godinez said.

The study looked into what the financial impact to the city would be if it chose to instead build a parking structure that could fully — or nearly fully — accommodate that need, as well as how much revenue the retail spaces could expect to generate, and what would happen if the city entered into a public/private partnership to try to offset costs.

The bottom line was that Edinburg’s growing downtown would need about 750 parking spaces, and that a three-story garage would be insufficient to meet that need.

Nor would it be structurally feasible to build a three-story garage now, then tack on additional floors later.

Councilman Dan Diaz alluded to how the city found itself in this situation to begin with.

“Before any of us were on any of these boards, there was a commitment by the city of a certain amount of money (to the county) … I think it was like $30 million,” Diaz said.

He was speaking of a 2016 gentlemen’s agreement between Edinburg and Hidalgo County officials to share the cost of the new county courthouse, which was then just in the planning phases.

Edinburg had agreed to contribute $30 million toward the courthouse’s construction costs.

But not long after former Mayor Richard Molina took office, Edinburg reneged on that commitment.

After the city failed to respond to multiple entreaties from the county between January and May 2018, Molina told The Monitor that the $30 million pledge was no longer a priority for Edinburg.

“I got to make sure that our projects are done first before I look at their project. So really, it’s not a priority for me right now,” Molina said at the time.

Instead, the parking garage became part of another sort of gentlemen’s agreement between the city and the county.

“Some sort of gentlemen’s agreement that the city would not be on the hook for $30 million if they would do a parking — or, have a solution for parking,” Diaz said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The county eventually conveyed the land to Edinburg for the purpose of building the parking garage.

Both the city council and EDC boards approved the issuance of bonds or certificates of obligation during a pair of meetings on Aug. 17, 2021 — while Molina was still mayor.

At the time, the city was beginning to invest heavily in quality of life improvements that would revitalize the downtown area, which encompasses an area from 8th Street and University Drive, where Edinburg City Hall is located, north along Kuhn Street, where the Museum of South Texas History sits, and south to where the current and new county courthouses bisect the city’s main drag, Closner Boulevard.

That investment includes plans to build an amphitheater and gardens, as well as a multipurpose arts and cultural events center, or ACE, in addition to the parking garage meant to accommodate people visiting those amenities.

The $21.46 million in COs the council approved are meant to be repaid via a combination of property taxes and revenues generated by parking fees at the garage, according to an official statement listed on the Electronic Municipal Market Access, or EMMA, a service of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board.

Meanwhile, the EDC approved two sales tax revenue bonds sold under one common official statement, according to documents obtained via EMMA.

Some $2.25 million of the nearly $10 million bond total is earmarked specifically for the parking garage, the official statement shows.

“The time to build is now,” said Eli Ochoa, principal architect for ERO Architects.