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New London - As the first few Electric Boat employees began to park at the downtown Water Street garage this week, a neighboring business is worried that the influx of up to 250 cars will take spaces away from its customers during its peak season.
The garage - which can accommodate a total of 920 vehicles - will have no problem taking in the additional cars, said Joe Celli, the garage's business manager. But Cross Sound Ferry, whose terminal is across Water Street from the city-owned garage, expressed displeasure to the City Council last week and contends the garage does not have enough spaces for ferry passengers and EB employees.
Under a temporary agreement with the city, up to 250 EB employees can park in the garage between 5 a.m. Monday and 9 p.m. Friday and be shuttled to the EB campus on Pequot Avenue. EB employees will not have access to the garage on weekends or holidays or during special events such as Sailfest.
The agreement, which runs through September, is part of an effort by the city to address parking and traffic concerns near the EB campus. As of midday Tuesday, just 15 EB employees had parked in the garage.
But Cross Sound Ferry, which began to see a rise in ridership last summer after several years of stagnation, fears a shortage of parking would stunt its growth.
"As a downtown New London business and one of the largest users of the Water Street parking garage, this deal will also result in unintended consequences for our company and for the city," Stanley Mickus, director of marketing and public affairs for Cross Sound Ferry, told the City Council last week.
Cross Sound customers need to be able to park in the garage, he said.
"Our ferry customers have alternatives. They can take the ferry out of Point Judith, they can fly out of Westerly or Providence, or they may not go at all. Thus they will never come to New London," Mickus said. "I liken this to New London killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. ... Solving one problem by creating another downtown is not the answer."
Because it is paying for a large number of spaces with one check, EB will pay a discounted rate of $41.80 per space per month, according to the agreement. Originally, EB wanted 450 spaces, Celli said. That would be about half the parking capacity, which the Parking Commission determined would not be feasible. Making a maximum of 250 spaces available on weekdays was more realistic, based on garage usage data, Celli said.
"The first thing we did was determine whether we have the availability, and we do," said Kip Bochain, chairman of the commission. "We know how many cars park on a per-day basis, and we know that we have ample space for this."
According to statistics provided by Celli, between 300 and 550 cars entered the garage on a typical weekday last summer. The garage was filled for only two days last year, the Fourth of July and Sailfest, he said.
Mickus, in his comments to the City Council, called Celli's statistics "flat-out wrong" because they do not account for cars left in the garage overnight for one or more days.
The Parking Commission will revisit negotiations in September and could craft a longer-term agreement based on the usage this summer.
Celli said he and the Parking Commission considered the impact an agreement with EB would have on Cross Sound Ferry and other businesses that rely on the Water Street garage.
"This has been a very well thought-out and lengthy process to try to address everyone's concerns," he said.
Prior to reaching an agreement with EB, Bochain, city councilors and other city officials met with representatives of Cross Sound Ferry to understand how the ferry service would be affected, Celli said.
He also noted that the impact of EB employees parking in the garage could be a positive one for restaurants and businesses.
"This is not just about parking. It's about economic development through parking," he said, noting that an EB employee who is already parked downtown is more likely to patronize businesses near the garage. "We are very excited about the EB folks who park downtown being able to understand the great things we have in downtown New London."
In February, a group of people who live or work near the Electric Boat campus complained to the council that Pequot Avenue is becoming dangerous because of parking on both sides of the street during the day. Customers were unable to find parking to patronize businesses there, business owners said.
Following the complaints, the City Council approved a resolution that encouraged the Parking Commission and the city administration to work with Electric Boat to find a solution. The city has also erected signs designating parking limits in the neighborhood.
"This agreement is to ameliorate the significant parking problems occurring for small businesses and taxpaying residents on Pequot Avenue," Celli said. "That problem has been festering for over two years now."