New garage opens today Gotts Court project was long awaited ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

December 14, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

In downtown Annapolis, where the narrow, historic streets are often choked with traffic, the event of the season is the opening of a new parking garage.

The much-awaited Gotts Court Garage, a 540-space parking structure behind the Arundel Center off Calvert Street, opens today. City officials are offering free parking there for the rest of the month.

Business leaders have been enthusiastic about construction of the $5.5 million garage, which is expected to ease the parking crunch in Maryland's capital and help rejuvenate West Street.

They also hope the city will sign off on a deal to open a visitors center in a Colonial-era house that backs onto the brick garage.

"I think it's great. Inner West Street can certainly use another shot in the arm," said Jim Martin, owner of Free State Press on West Street.

He praised both the rapid construction and the parking structure's appearance.

"I think it looks better than the Arundel Center," he said.

In a coup for Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, who promised during his campaign in 1989 to build a second garage in Annapolis, the city paid $1.3 million less than the original estimate and finished ahead of schedule.

Omni Construction Co., the Washington-based firm awarded the contract, began the work in February and finished last week.

Though it's six levels, the garage is only 32 feet high, significantly lower than both the Arundel Center and other office buildings on West Street. A surface lot with 32 spaces is directly behind the chalk brick house that's being eyed for a visitors center.

Tourists and day-trippers will be encouraged to park their cars at the garage and walk to the harbor.

Annapolis sold $5.9 million in long-term construction bonds last year to finance the garage and renovations to the Truxtun Park swimming pool. The state contributed $1.6 million in exchange for the use of 125 parking spaces.

To offset the cost, the city had decided to charge parking fees to developers building or expanding properties on West Street, where little parking is available. But a City Council committee agreed to abolish the $300,000 in fees after two developers complained that they were unable to pay because of the recession.

Mr. Hopkins, who has been credited with completing a project that had been planned for a decade, said he was proud of the garage.

"It's been talked about for years," he said. "In my opinion, nobody really rode herd on it to get it done."

The city has been negotiating to lease the adjacent historic house, in the first block of West Street, for a tourist center. Visitors could then park their cars, pick up information at the center, and walk downtown.

Tourism is an economic cornerstone for the city, but traffic from the estimated 4.5 million visitors a year annoys downtown residents.

Especially in the summer and on weekends, Main Street and City Dock teem with tourists browsing in the boutiques and eating in the many restaurants.

Directions to the Gotts Court Garage will be clearly marked from Rowe Boulevard to intercept traffic headed to City Dock, said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff.

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