The fight for state money to rebuild the RiverCentre parking ramp intensified Friday, with St. Paul legislators pointing to the concrete slab that fell from the ramp’s ceiling this week as more evidence that the project’s multimillion-dollar price tag is justified.
“There certainly is evidence of the urgency of the funding,” said Sen. John Marty, DFL-St. Paul, a day after St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter ordered the ramp closed for safety reasons. “Big chunks of concrete falling off the ceiling could be deadly.”
Still, the cost to replace the parking ramp, which was built in 1970 on Kellogg Boulevard in downtown St. Paul, is extraordinarily high.
The proposed 2,200-space ramp would cost $117.9 million, or nearly $54,000 per parking space. That’s nearly $6,000 more per space than the ramp under construction at MSP International Airport, and nearly $25,000 more per space than the Mills Fleet Farm parking deck at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The project budget, outlined in a document provided by Visit St. Paul, shows about $100 million of the total cost would go toward construction. The rest would cover expenses such as administration, design and project management.
The document shows more than $1.3 million had already been spent on design and project management in 2016 and 2017 — a cost the RiverCentre covered, according to Visit St. Paul President and CEO Terry Mattson.
Previous reports, which referred to a Tuesday news release announcing a public campaign for the $58 million state bonding request, said the total project cost was $116 million.
As part of the bonding request, the city offered to use parking revenue to cover the remaining cost of demolishing and rebuilding the ramp.
Bill Huepenbecker, RiverCentre’s senior director of planning and public affairs, said the site of the ramp, which is landlocked on three sides, presents demolition and construction challenges. That adds to the cost, he said.
“It’s not that much more, but there is an additional expense to meeting those challenges,” he said.
The House version of the bonding bill passed Monday without any money for the parking ramp, and the Senate version, which included $5 million for demolition, did not pass. But Huepenbecker was still at the Capitol lobbying on Friday, and legislators said there’s a chance money will come through before the session ends at midnight Sunday.
“In my experience, it’s not over ’til it’s over,” said Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul.
In attempting to secure bonding dollars, legislators and local officials have touted the ramp’s importance to St. Paul, pointing to the millions of people who visit downtown every year and the need for the city to stay competitive in attracting conventions and other events. They’ve also emphasized that the ramp isn’t just for St. Paulites.
“I’ve said to my suburban and my rural colleagues, ‘Look, my people don’t park in that ramp. They walk, they carpool, they go through the skyway, they know where to park for free,’ ” said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. “It’s your people from the suburbs and rural Minnesota that need to use that ramp when you come in for hockey games or conferences or festivals … and it’s dangerous.”
Carter ordered the shutdown of the RiverCentre ramp Thursday after a piece of concrete measuring 3 feet by 2 feet detached from the ceiling and damaged a parked car Wednesday evening.
Engineering firm Reigstad, which offers parking consulting services, conducted monthly visual inspections of the ramp between February and April and removed loose overhead concrete early last month, according to a May 12 report to RiverCentre and the city. The one-page document reported no visible change in the ramp’s condition during that time, or between previous inspections, which spanned years, and the first monthly inspection on Feb. 20.
St. Paul Department of Safety & Inspections Director Ricardo Cervantes said the spot where concrete broke off Wednesday had not previously been identified as an area of concern.
The ramp is closed indefinitely for inspections that began Friday — the first time in the ramp’s 48-year life that it’s been completely closed, Mattson said. He said the inspections will last at least a week.
“If all goes well, we’re hoping to reopen the ramp,” he said.