Eager to ease congestion at 50th and France, the city of Edina plans to add between 130 and 180 parking places where a building now stands.

The City Council recently approved the purchase of what is called the Edina Realty building, at 3930 W. 49½ St. The building would be razed to make way for a four-level parking ramp or a three-level ramp stacked on top of first-floor commercial space.

"For years, the city has heard from business owners, property owners and customers that parking at 50th and France is increasingly troublesome, " said Bill Neuendorf, the city's economic development director.

The purchase agreement calls for the city to pay no more than $2.65 million for the building. Tenants are scheduled to vacate the building next month, with the city taking possession in June.

Neuendorf said the city could pay for the property with existing tax increment financing money or with bond sales.

The two-square-block area around 50th and France has 1,347 parking spaces in ramps and lots, but studies say it needs at least 1,500 spaces. Last year the city focused on proposals to expand and renovate three existing parking ramps.

The city dropped those plans after objections from business owners who were concerned that a proposal to replace a three-story ramp with a six-story ramp would overwhelm the neighborhood. They also were worried that losing parking spaces during construction and the resulting traffic mess could permanently drive customers away.

Now, Neuendorf said, the plan is for the city to first tear down and replace the building with a parking ramp. When that project is done, the city will renovate and possibly expand the other ramps.

The city will hire experts to evaluate whether the best alternative is to build just a parking ramp or to put a ramp on top of commercial space. Neuendorf likes the idea of adding commercial space, but said the city will consult with businesspeople in the area first.

"Honestly, I hope we can do it, " he said. "It's more complicated, but better for the overall business district. ...

"We do not want to compete with the private market, but in my position now, every week someone is contacting me to find space to rent at 50th and France. The vacancy rate is incredibly low."

The city owns the 50th and France parking ramps, where parking is free. Neuendorf said if things go as planned, construction could begin as early as this fall. But all of the improvements may not be done until 2015.

Rough construction estimates for all the improvements range from $2 million to $4 million, depending on the size and scope of the work. Past proposals were for the city to pay for the land and for business owners to cover construction through special assessments. But those decisions are up to the City Council.

The city has until April 3 to walk away from the deal.