Many Oxford leaders are convinced they are on the right track with the Multi-Modal Transportation Center & Borough Hall project (i.e., the parking garage). The subject has been discussed for a long time within OMI (Oxford Mainstreet Incorporated) and a coherent vision about Oxford’s future prosperity has been developed there. This vision includes hundreds of new jobs coming into downtown once a parking garage is built. There is no doubt that the people at OMI are convinced that this project will benefit the town.
At the same time, many residents question the need for a parking garage and are concerned about the potential costs. Everybody can see that there are many vacant parking spots, both on the street and in the Borough’s three parking lots. The proposal to build parking capacity to meet anticipated future needs reminds people of the $27,000,000 borrowed to upgrade the Oxford Area Sewer Authority (OASA). That debt was to be paid from sewer revenues coming from new homes, but the predicted housing developments were never built. OASA has raised rates for existing customers but is still in deep financial difficulty. There is no doubt that residents are worried that a similar thing is happening now with the garage.
How did we get to this point? Until July, 2017 there was a real parking shortage from the merchants’ perspective. The downtown streets and parking lots were filled with cars belonging to residents of apartments in the area. Local businesses were frustrated by lack of customer parking. In July, 2017 enforcement of new rates for on-street meters eliminated that shortage and produced the vacancies we see today.
Borough Council hired Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy (SSM) to do a parking study. I cannot explain why SSM used data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers that were intended only for suburban, single-use sites, but their conclusion (published in 2012) that Oxford had a deficit of 329 parking spaces in the BID (Business Improvement District) made a large impact on the thinking of OMI leaders. The idea of a parking shortage survived after the real parking shortage was eliminated.
As a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Borough Manager Brian Hoover had the opportunity to invite Mr. Toby Fauver, Assistant Secretary of PennDOT, down to Oxford. After this visit, Mr Fauver pledged $2,000,000 toward a parking garage in Oxford. This contribution gave “legs” to the idea of building a garage and since then an additional $2,600,000 in grant money has been obtained. It is easy to see why the OMI leaders are excited about fulfilling what they see as a need.
At the same time, residents worry that an expensive project is being undertaken based on inflated estimates of future demand. They doubt that there will be new large employers moving into town. They worry that the Borough’s taxpayers will be burdened with substantial debt. Individuals with experience in the field estimate the Borough’s final borrowing will be about $5,000,000.
To reconcile these two views it would be helpful to have advice from an outside expert. The 2015 Oxford Revitalization Plan Update says “TimHaahs and Boyle Construction partnered with the City of Allentown …” on that city’s parking project (p. 61). I suggest that we hire Timothy Haahs & Associates, Inc. to give us examples of municipalities that have successfully built parking structures in anticipation of demand, to give us their estimate of the likely costs of our project, and perhaps to suggest other approaches to providing parking in Oxford.