VALPARAISO | As she looked at the designs for the proposed expansion of Central Park Plaza, Donna Phelps said she really would rather have a parking garage than more park downtown.
Phelps was one of about a dozen people, most of them downtown business owners, who attended the first of two public showings Thursday of the concepts for the park expansion along the north side of Indiana Avenue between Lafayette and Napoleon Streets.
Phelps, owner of Seasons on the Square, said, "This is beautiful, but they want all the people to come downtown while they are taking all the parking. A lot of the restaurants are concerned about it. We have a lot of new businesses coming downtown, but they are not adding parking.
"The park does bring people downtown, and I'm sure to some degree it has helped my business," she said. "But I hear all the time from customers about the lack of parking."
The concepts put together with the Valparaiso architectural firm of Design Organization call for an 80- by 100-foot pavilion with equipment for creating an ice rink in the winter along with an accompanying warming shelter/concession stand with additional space for storage and other activities.
A fireplace is planned next to the pavilion, and the east entrance to the existing park from Lafayette would have an arched feature with a fountain on the sides. Another arched entrance is proposed at Lincolnway and Lafayette.
Lafayette would remain open to traffic except when events are held, when it could be closed for extra space and for safety, and it would be one-way southbound. City Administrator Bill Oeding said angle parking on both sides of Lafayette and additional parking on Indiana would increase the spaces available when Lafayette is open.
The price tag for the project is estimated at $8 million, of which the city already has about $7 million in pledges with more than $3 million coming from private donations and between $3 million and $3.5 million coming from the city's Redevelopment Commission. Oeding said the city already is discussing programming for the pavilion.
"I just wanted to come see what the plans look like," said architect Jeff Jacobs. "I'd like to see more living space downtown."
Kelly Schwedland, entrepreneur in residence for the state's Elevate Ventures program that helps communities attract new businesses, said the park and other downtown improvements help lure prospects from Chicago and other areas.
"The pavilion is a no-brainer," Schwedland said. "They have to rent a lot of tents anyway. The ice skating, I don't know. I like the idea of something going on downtown other than drinking. I lived downtown for a while, and it was surprising how little there was to do with the kids. I'm a huge fan of the central park concept and what's happening here."
Oeding said the city is doing a parking study as part of the overall transit-oriented district study of the downtown to see where additional spaces can be squeezed in. The city also is discussing things like a downtown streetcar and valet parking.
And, for those who want their name on something, Oeding said the pavilion naming rights probably will go to the largest donor, but the other features, right down to the Zamboni, are still up for grabs.
The city hopes to begin construction following the 2014 Popcorn Fest and have the new facilities open by summer 2015.