Garage to open in time for start of Assembly

Bladen St. will open fully on Wednesday

January 05, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

After more than two years of waiting, construction along one of the major thoroughfares into Annapolis is set to wrap up next week in time to welcome back the General Assembly, but frustration from local merchants is tempering any fanfare.

Bladen Street, closed for more than 2 1/2 years, opened its northbound lanes last week, and southbound traffic can pass through starting Wednesday. By that same day - the start of the annual General Assembly session - the $20 million Calvert Street Parking Garage at Calvert and Bladen streets will be open to state workers.

The state Department of General Services has not decided whether to allow the public to use the garage on nights and weekends.

Some restaurants and businesses had counted on using a portion of the 725-space garage for customer parking. That was common at the former government lots that the new garage and House of Delegates office building expansion were built on.

Since construction began in July 2005, some of the customers at Galway Bay Irish Restaurant and Pub on Maryland Avenue have stayed away because they cannot find parking downtown, said owner Fintan Galway.

He and Rusty Romo of Harry Browne's Restaurant were going to split the cost of a valet service and allow customers to use the garage. Galway said he was assured the public would be allowed to use it and is disappointed that the matter has not been settled.

"Rusty and I were going to try to get some of our customers back," Galway said.

General Services had put out a request for proposals for a commercial operator to manage the garage before deciding whether to open the garage to public use, said spokesman Dave Humphrey. The deadline for proposals is Wednesday.

But it could be difficult to find a management company. An informal survey conducted by the department revealed that many operators were skeptical that the project would be financially viable because the garage is too far from the hustle and bustle of the city's popular waterfront, Humphrey said.

He said he was not sure how much a commercial operator would need to charge the public to make the venture profitable.

Without a management company, General Services would not open the garage to the public because it does not have the staff to operate the garage after work hours, Humphrey said. For liability reasons, there would have to be some security at the garage, he said.

Romo said he had thought that the garage would be shut down after hours with a section - perhaps the first floor - open for public parking. A small section should not require staffing or a fee, he said.

The four-story parking garage, including one below-ground floor, was designed with the collaboration of community and historic groups to fit its surroundings, Humphrey said. The mostly brick exterior was done in the Georgian style and features exterior lighting sconces.

Connie Del Signore, president and chief executive officer of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau, said that hundreds of state employees had been parking at Gott's Court during construction. Now that it is finished, those spaces would return to public use, she said.

"I think the garage is going to be really helpful for us," Del Signore said.

The reopening of Bladen Street also is a relief to city officials, who have been fielding calls from curious residents, said Steve Carr, an environmental consultant to the city and community liaison for the Rowe Boulevard project for the State Highway Administration.

Annapolis has few entryways into the city, and everyone feels it when there is a lane closure, he said.

Del Signore also praised the nearly complete $33 million Rowe Boulevard bridges project for opening up traffic, beautifying the city's main gateway and providing pedestrian-friendly walkways. The Weems Creek and College Creek bridges were 50 years old and needed major upgrades.

Builders widened the Weems Creek bridge by 9 feet, allowing the addition of a sidewalk on the east side, a bicycle lane and a larger median that matches the approaches to the bridge.

Over the next two weeks, workers will finish the median and install a guardrail along Kirkley Avenue, which runs under the Weems Bridge.

Most of the landscaping will have to wait until spring, said Charlie Gischler, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

Some of the median work and paving had to be postponed until Bladen Street reopened, he said.

On the College Creek Bridge, workers replaced the concrete bridge deck, steel girders and concrete pier caps.

The sidewalk width was increased on both sides of the roadway and wider shoulders were added for bikes.

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