At the Historic Vermilion Design Review Board Meeting on March 4, 2020, Mayor Forthofer explained that in 2017 the previous administration purchased the Fulper Lot (Gas Station) and the EPA investigation of the property began at that time. When he took office, the EPA study concluded, which meant the property was clean and clear of all contamination. He said Council expressed interest in making this property a parking lot, as the sentiment was that the downtown needed more parking. However, he petitioned Council to give the administration a reprieve to investigate the opportunity to make this spot something different; maybe a commercial/residential that attracts people to downtown, rather than just a parking lot. The mayor had 10 months to have meetings, and he talked with a lot of people.
“They had much polite interests from developers, but nobody was willing to step up with money to build on the property,” said the mayor. “ One of the reasons why it was a hard sell is that the yield per square foot downtown is partially established by the fact that it’s mostly old buildings. Therefore, the yield is low and for somebody to build a brand-new building and expect to pay for it with the same old low yield is unlikely.”
The mayor said they are looking at another summer, so if they’re going to do anything, they need to do it. Therefore, against his will he reluctantly went to Council with a plan for a parking lot with the realization that someone may still come along some day, but in the meantime, it’s an unsightly mud pit.
“It’s either a dust ball or a mud pit, and that’s not what we want for the downtown,” said the mayor. “We either want a nice-looking building, or a nice-looking parking lot.”
Mayor Forthofer presented an artist rendering and site plan of a proposed parking lot of which accounts for 27 parking spaces, a deep frontage on Liberty Avenue, and retaining the parallel parking spaces along Grand Street.
“Since then, service groups have come forward to ask to modify the plans to make it prettier and to take away one of the parallel parking spaces to make it green down the side and asked if they could move the entries a little forward,” stated the mayor.
He said these are all great ideas, but he is trying to provide essential parking with leaving enough of a blank slate for the rest of the peripheral area, including the walkway running along the Art Scene which goes back to the Dickerhoff lot. He thought these areas could be embellished and enhanced to make them more attractive as they move forward.
“However, because of the season the City needs to move on this now, so we are going out to bid on the project as presented, and then if Vermilion in Bloom wants to do something in the front then that would be great,” said the mayor. He hoped they could have a performance venue there, so Third Thursday’s can perform there, and people can set up chairs for the parades.
Board Member Judy Williams asked what material would be used for the fence. Mayor Forthofer said there are two versions being considered, consisting of board on board or rod iron with sandstone pedestals. They will go out to bid on both.
Board Member Robbie Brown asked if everything will be done at one time. Mayor Forthofer answered yes, and they will asphalt (hard-surface) and get a quote on the front from a landscape architect. But they’re willing to modify it if a service group comes up with something better.
The mayor said there will probably be pavers going down the walkway, and they’re hoping to get an historic lighting grant from NOPEC.
“There is $13,000 in NOPEC dollars available to the City this year,” said the mayor, “and we could be looking at using it for the continuation of the historic lighting on Grand Street.”
Gwen Fisher, Certified Municipal Clerk, noted that a couple council members expressed concern to her on the wood fence concept with regards to the safety of seeing the cars, along with the threat of possible graffiti...so they may be more in favor of a rod iron type of fence. Mayor Forthofer said this will be decided on once they get the bids back.
Brown agreed they should take away the parallel parking space on the end of Grand Street, so it’s easier to see when coming out of the intersection.
Board Member Brenda Miklos asked about the parking lot being handicap accessible with proper access into the parking lot. Mayor Forthofer showed her the handicap accessibility on the site plan.
Williams said it will be a huge improvement that is much needed.
The design concept of the parking lot was approved by the board with 3 YEAS; 1 NAY (Suszko).