MEDIA — Delaware County has had plans to replace its office and garage complex on Orange Street for more efficiency and parking. The importance heightened in July with the partial collapse of a garage wall.
Hazardous conditions compelled county government to close the garage, move departments in the Sweeney and Toal buildings and plan a new facility.
County Executive Director Marianne Grace, council Chairman John McBlain and Councilman Kevin Madden came to the borough’s Community Development Committee (CDC) to discuss parking strategies for employees, jurors and the general public with business at the courthouse/government center.
“Since the problem at the end of July, we have contracted with a company to design demolition. It will be taken down piece by piece,” said McBlain, noting there will be no “wrecking ball.” The current plan will start with dismantling the garage, then the Toal portion and Sweeney building.
Meetings have been held for neighbors, although attendance thus far as been light. They are particularly concerned with parking in the relatively narrow streets on the west side of the building. Citron, Amber, Front and Third streets have already been affected by closures for safety. Any reduction in parking will have an impact, they have told the borough and county.
Reconfiguring available office space in county-owned facilities and acquired leases (for up to four years) were tackled to continue the county’s business. Parking, however, has been more of a challenge, as the borough knows all too well.
“The loss of parking is considerable. We have advised our employees they can use Rose Tree Park and be shuttled to the courthouse. The response has been underwhelming,” said Grace, citing fewer than two dozen drivers using that option.
The key, she and McBlain agreed, was the lack of convenience. Their view was that employees wanted immediate access to their vehicle for various reasons. The shuttle time between the courthouse/government center and park might be only 10 minutes, but it was thought to extend the day. Initially shuttles were planned to only run at the start and end of the work day.
The appearance at CDC was to ask if the third (top) level of the Olive Street garage could be leased and used by the county, either in part of exclusively. According to borough administrators, the third level (in addition to the more often used two lower levels) was already filled. The change was almost immediate after the county’s issues, said borough council President Brian Hall.
It seemed apparent the borough was not willing to turn over an entire floor. Council was hearing numerous complaints about parking being eliminated for business employees and customers, critical as the holiday season nears.
Grace said she was also working with Broomalls Lake Country Club about its parking lot off Third Street (and accessible), thought to be largely unused until next spring/summer. McBlain said the more remote the parking, the less likely it is to be used.
“We need to work together for your employees and our residents and business owners,” said Councilman Paul Robinson, a committee member, who suggested Springfield Mall and its trolley access as another alternative. He asked if the county could be more flexible with work hours, or “mandate” that many use the park option. County officials had no immediate answers on those strategies, but acknowledged the need for further outreach to borough property owners such as Media Real Estate.
As critical as the parking issue was, everyone at the table addressed the even larger matter of new construction. After meeting with county officials a few times in the last year, development details hadn’t moved forward. Hall said that should be happening simultaneous to parking concerns. McBlain agreed.
Madden referred to himself and colleague Brian Zidek, both Democrats were newly elected to county council.
“Brian and I are playing catch. We want to make sure we don’t under build or over build. We actually have an opportunity to learn during this process,” said Madden.
Madden raised the question of a parking garage at Orange Street and Baltimore Avenue (now a surface lot), floated as a cooperative project between the borough, county and SEPTA. The county had been disinclined to be involved. Depending on office building design and timing, that project may see life again.
“We aren’t looking for answers today,” McBlain said.
Hall said the borough would be looking for proposals, other options and use of private properties.
Robinson took the long view. “We are two months into a five-year process.”