Ocala is looking to build a second parking garage in the southwest downtown area for about $12 million.
The Ocala City Council met Wednesday afternoon at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition building to discuss downtown core parking solutions. After reviewing seven sites, the city manager and other city officials decided that the lot at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, located at 55 SW 3rd Ave, would be the perfect fit.
Sean Lanier, a city engineer and engineering director, would be in charge of the garage once it gets approved. Lanier said he believes it is important to have free parking in the downtown area to help the economy grow.
Lanier believes that the price for the project may change due to the current economic climate. He said he hopes the local businesses around the square will benefit from having visitor parking spots in the downtown area.
But the garage isn’t only meant for visitors. Residents and those who work around the square will have less problems when it comes to finding a spot.
Parking is a constant consideration when visiting downtown, said Thomas Broadbent, an Ocala resident who went downtown for lunch and a milkshake at the downtown square Wednesday. He took a Lyft to get to the area so he wouldn’t have to deal with finding a spot.
“I think it would be a good idea since the parking here is limited, so it is very hard to find a spot when it gets really busy,” Broadbent said.
The city’s aims to create a second parking garage close to the square, five streets down from the first garage. Creating more parking in the area means opening a door for future development opportunities.
Peter Lee, the Ocala assistant city manager, said he has considered infrastructure impacts, traffic circulation and other factors before selecting the proposed location for the new parking garage.
“We know that we need additional parking infrastructure for downtown, especially toward the west of downtown,” Lee said. “We have a parking issue.”
However, Lee said he believes that having a parking problem is a good problem. This means more businesses, more money for the city and more growth.
“We knew we needed to do it sooner rather than later,” Lee said.
Although the lot has not been purchased yet, members of the church have asked the city to make the garage a historical site. Mt. Moriah Baptist Church has been in the city for more than 150 years.
Regis Boatwright, a member of the church for 73 years, said she wants a historical marker on the lot to commemorate the history of the church. Boatwright grew up in the area and supports the idea of the parking garage as long as the city agrees to respect the members’ wishes.
“I feel like we do need to designate it as a historical site,” she said. “It has been here since 1867.”
The council members agreed that the parking garage should honor the church’s history.
Ocala’s downtown area can get busy on Friday nights. With a new Mellow Mushroom restaurant opening soon, the city expects about 300 people each weekend . The proposed garage is expected to hold more than 400 spots.
The city council will vote on purchasing the land in March. The deadline to analyze and decide on the property is March 31.