By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A proposal to turn an east end park into a tourist information site and picnic area has changed: Half the park will be paved to replace parking that will be lost in the First Street improvement project.
The park once known as Tourist Park, located south of First Street between Kim's Sculptured Nails & Hair and Nalivka's Original Pizza Kitchen, was targeted for improvement by Havre Mayor Bob Rice in May, and a plan to beautify the park was among six project vying for federal gas tax dollars - Community Transportation Enhancement Program funds - in July. By July 21 that had changed.
"The Montana Department of Transportation has agreed to pave the front portion of that park for public parking at no cost to the city," Rice told the City Council last week. He said a fence would be put up on the south side of the parking lot. Rice said he still hopes to eventually have new playground equipment south of an alley that divides the park.
After a hearing before the Havre City Council on July 7, the narrow park between First and Second streets was among six project vying for about $78,000 in CTEP funds available to Havre next fiscal year through the Montana Department of Transportation.
Community member Charlie Grant wanted to use CTEP money to revamp the park to attract people driving through Havre. Grant proposed putting in picnic benches, a gazebo, and wooden signs about Havre's tourist attractions on the north half of the park, and new playground equipment on the south half. He also said parking space would be needed.
The plan changed after a July 16 MDT meeting attended by Rice.
Under a plan to repave and improve First Street beginning in 2006, all streetside parking on the south side of First Street between Seventh and 12th avenues would be eliminated, according to Jason Giard, MDT engineering services supervisor.
That would mean trouble for a longtime Havre business, Nalivka's Pizza Kitchen. The owners of Nalivka's, which has no seating and sells pizza for takeout or delivery, said elimination of the parking spots would drive them out of business.
"Without any parking, we'd have to probably close," Nalivka co-owner Mary Jensen said today. "It would drive us out of business."
Jensen said people who come to pick up pizza park right in front of the Nalivka's on First Street.
Jensen said she first found out that the parking spots would be eliminated about a month ago and called some people who had been involved in the MDT meetings on the First Street project, including Rice.
At the July 16 MDT meeting, Rice suggested paving the front half of the park to alleviate parking problems in the area if MDT would pay for it. He also said the Havre City Council supports the idea.
"They're all for it," he said.
Giard said he could just about make the decision on the spot.
"I don't see any reason we can't pave that," he said. Giard added that he had been concerned that the plan would eliminate parking and that he would talk to the project consultant to see if the parking lot could be included in the project.
Giard could not be reached for comment this morning.
Rice said the lot would be public, and that surrounding businesses have complained that the existing street parking is narrow and inconvenient.
"This will actually be a big safety thing," he said this morning. "It's going to eliminate a lot of near misses on that road."
Rice said that especially in the winter, cars driving on First come perilously close to cars parked on the curb. He said he talked to homeowners on the block who said they were relieved that there will be more parking.
Public works director Dave Peterson estimated the project would create fewer than 30 parking spots, but said he thought it would be enough for customers of the businesses in the area. Peterson said the lot would not be a difficult project. Sod would be removed, and gravel would be added and paved over.
Rice said he does not know exactly when the lot will be done. He said it will probably not be done this year, but before First Street construction starts in 2006.
"I think it's wonderful," Jensen said. "I think it will mean ... that we will have a business still."
Jensen said that during construction the project will affect all businesses on First Street, but that she thinks in the long term Nalivka's would be the only business affected because the surrounding businesses have their own parking lots.
City Council member Emily Mayer said she does not know details about the project yet, but that she supports development of the east side of town.
"Anything that enhances and improves the entries coming into town and the east end of town, I'm 100 percent for," she said. The park is in Mayer's ward.
Grant also said he supports the lot.
"If they couldn't get parking there, (the park) really wouldn't benefit anyone," he said, adding that there is still room for swing sets, a couple picnic tables and possibly a gazebo on the south half of the park.