A group of Madison Street business owners came to village hall last week to hear the village’s latest ideas for improving parking on Madison Street and discuss the possibility of adding a new parking structure to the street.

Village Administrator Michael Sturino as well as Commissioners Mark Hosty, Terry Steinbach and Tim Gillian all attended the meeting on the morning of Dec. 14, which served as more of a brainstorming session than a time for firm decisions to be made.

In November, the village council voted to hire engineering firm R.H. Anderson and Associates, Inc. to study the need for additional parking on Madison Street between Desplaines and Harlem avenues.

The firm will be paid about $19,000 to conduct studies of existing parking in the area as well as the usage of that parking during various periods of the day, and then to recommend possibilities for additional parking, which could include a new parking structure.

Matt Gauntt, representing the firm, attended and gave a short presentation before departing for another meeting. He brought up several matters for consideration, including the need to distinguish between short and long term parking needs and to ensure that parking facilities are sufficiently lit and secure for patrons.

He explained that the cost of constructing and maintaining a parking structure varies greatly based on the kind of facility chosen.

A ground level lot, he said, typically costs between $1,700 and $3,500 per space, while an above ground structure costs between $7,500 and $18,000 per space. A subsurface structure, he said, typically costs $20,000 to $40,000 per space to build.

Gauntt cautioned that these numbers were rough estimates, as factors including whether to staff the structure or leave it unattended as well as potential aesthetic improvements to the structure must be decided upon.

Though Gauntt originally planned to complete his study and prepare a report by spring, village commissioners, led by Steinbach, urged that the study wait until the weather warms up and shoppers return to Madison in higher numbers so that a more accurate assessment of parking needs could be conducted.

Hosty agreed, stating that “one problem is that we want the report right away, but another problem is that we’re in the slowest time of the year.”

After some further discussion, all in attendance agreed to push the start of the study back to March 1.

Forest Park planning consultant Jo Ellen Charlton, who took over for Gauntt after he left, noted the importance of conducting the study with an eye to the future, asking if there are any areas of Madison that are particularly ripe for redevelopment and could affect traffic in the future.

Hosty mentioned the stretch between Horan’s Restaurant, 7218 Madison St., and O’Sullivan’s Public House, 7244 Madison St., as an example of one such area. Gillian agreed, noting that a parking structure would make the area even more attractive to businesses if it were redeveloped in the coming years.

Gillian noted that a study of downtown parking needs would have to take into account the increased traffic that would be created by a parking structure. “We have to look 20, 30 years out,” he said.

Most in attendance agreed that a parking structure would likely be used more so by employees of local business than by diners and shoppers. “I don’t see this as ‘I’m going to Shanahan’s for a cheeseburger, I’ll park in the garage,'” said Hosty.

Sturino noted that something would have to be done to urge employees to park in the garage rather than on Madison Street. Suggestions included stricter enforcement of two hour parking limits on Madison, or providing discounts or other incentives to employees.

Gillian also raised the question of whether people would be willing to walk from the eventual site of the parking structure to other parts of Madison Street, to which Charlton responded that “everyone starts somewhere,” and noted that after one parking garage is built, more soon follow to keep up with the additional need created.

Sturino and Forest Park National Bank Director Art Jones agreed that care must be taken to ensure that the garage does not destroy the streetscape and pattern of architecture on Madison Street. “We don’t want a garage you look at from Madison. We want it tucked away,” said Sturino.

After a brief discussion of the kind of committee that would be formed to plan the parking structure, Jones attempted to steer the conversation back to more immediate issues.

“Until we’ve reached a settlement about funding options, it’s difficult to talk about organization,” he said.

The village has agreed to place $140,000 per year in a fund for downtown parking improvements, but this will be far from sufficient in the long run.

A plan proposed by Sturino in August for Madison Street businesses to pay a fee to the village which would be put toward parking improvements in lieu of a requirement to provide parking was viewed as overly onerous by many business owners.

Though no new funding plans were proposed at last week’s meaning, Sturino went out of his way to reassure business owners that they would not be paying for the work alone.

“We’re not going to go to the downtown business community and say ‘you’re going to pay for this,'” he said. “No models (that we’re considering) involve a Special Service Area or otherwise asking businesses to foot the bill completely.”