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Council Gives Final Go-ahead for Downtown Senior Building and Parking Structure

By Jorge Casuso

Capping a seven-year battle, the City Council Tuesday night gave the final funds and approvals to build a senior building and public parking structure downtown.

Construction of the 66-unit, low-income senior housing project and parking garage is scheduled to begin April 1 on the site of a surface parking lot near Wilshire and Fourth Street. The full project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2001.

The $6 million garage - which is expected to alleviate a parking crunch near the Third Street Promenade -- will include 293 public parking spaces and 30 spaces reserved for the senior building. The structure would replace the 165 existing spaces on the surface lot.

"I'm really excited about this project," said Councilman Paul Rosenstein. "It's long overdue."

As a result of rising construction costs and changes in the design of the parking structure, the council, which was acting as the city's Redevelopment Agency, approved an appropriation of $569,848 to develop the Fourth Street Parking Garage.

Once it is open and fully operational with attendant parking, the garage is expected to generate approximately $400,000 in annual revenues.

Tuesday's vote puts an end to a saga that began in the summer of 1993, when the council voted to sell the air rights above the existing surface lot to the Jewish Federation Council for $2.25 million. The Federation would use federal housing funds to build the units above the structure, as well as the 30 spaces.

But a lawsuit delayed the project. In 1997, nearby merchants -- who feared business would be lost during construction and safety-conscious customers would be reluctant to use the structure - filed a lawsuit against the city.

The lawsuit led to a settlement agreement that resulted in 128 additional public parking spaces. The parking garage also has been redesigned with enhanced lighting and a painted ceiling to provide a greater sense of safety.

"We have a contract, a development company and a price we think is reasonable," said Bob Moncrief, the city's housing and redevelopment manager. "We are finally ready to begin construction."

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