City to consider permanent parklet program for downtown, southside

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By Brandi Makuski

Stevens Point plans to create formal guidelines for a new, permanent parklet program aimed at two areas of the city.

The program was first introduced locally almost two years ago by the grassroots organization Main Street Parks, turning 11 downtown parking stalls into temporary public parks in September 2016. By all accounts, the event was successful, spurring two more events since, and now organizers want to make it a more permanent part of city space.

Plan commissioners on Monday were asked for input on the formal creation of a parklet policy for use inside the city, the first step in creating an ordinance that officially recognizes and governs the program.

Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski said the program would be limited to two areas zoned Central Business District, allowing changes for up to 12 parking spaces in the downtown and six on the south side, in a space known as the South Side Square near Skipp’s Bowling. Only one parklet per block face would be permitted.

In a letter to the commission, Trevor Roark from MSP called the program “innovative”, saying it would “benefit our local economy, enhance downtown public spaces, increase street safety, and improve the overall destination for our out-of-town visitors.”

Nine downtown businesses, he said, have already expressed an interest in participating.

“It’ll be a good starting point, even if changes are made to these guidelines,” his letter read in part.

Councilwoman Mary McComb said she supported the idea, adding she knew of two businesses on the southside that were interested in joining.

Examples of parklets included in the March 5 plan commission meeting packet. (stevenspoint.com)

The program allows for semi-permanent changes to existing public parking spots, transforming them into any number of pedestrian-friendly, engaging spaces operating between April and October. Temporary landscaping, life-sized games of chess, additional benches and public eating spaces have all been apart of the MSP program in the past.

If ultimately approved by the city council, the program would operate April through October. The initial fee for a parklet permit would be set at $150, according to city records, and accompanied by other costs for signage or construction.

Ostrowski said the parklets also have the potential to become an extension of an existing business—provided the correct permits are sought—turning the public parking space into what is essentially private property.  The monthly fee for a private parklet would be $20, while a private-public space would be assessed a monthly fee of $15. There would be no monthly charge for a public parklet, he said.

The parklets would also be subject to an annual renewal fee of $50, and several regulations recommended but not yet finalized. Permit owners would also be required to carry a minimum of $1 million liability coverage for the space, Ostrowski said.

“We’re just seeing how it works the first year…I don’t see every parking space filled the first year, but if this is successful, I think that would be a great thing,” he said, adding the spaces would add an element of “intrigue” to the downtown.

“If you have a parklet in front of your business, the person going to that parklet will hopefully patronize a nearby business,” he said.

Commissioner Dan Hoppe said he supported the project, but questioned whether the city could encounter “push back” from businesses concerned they could potentially be losing parking.

“If you put a parklet in front of your business,” Hoppe asked, “does that take away parking from another business that doesn’t want a parklet, and they’re now losing their parking space?”

“First of all, they are ‘our’ parking spots, and there are 1,400 of them in the downtown area,” Wiza said.

Draft language on a proposed policy is expected to come before the plan commission in April.

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