The new parking garage going up in downtown Missoula next year won't be your ordinary concrete shell.
Nope, the Missoula Parking Commission brought on MMW Architects to design a parking structure for the future. That means slabs of gray are out, and "urban," "progressive," "fun" and "vibrant" are in.
Just in case you still don't get the idea, in the words of MMW's Don MacArthur, this garage will have "a little more zip."
The $8.5 million deal is a project of the Parking Commission and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, and it comes Monday before the Missoula City Council.
MRA director Ellen Buchanan said the building of some 400 car spaces is a key project identified in the Downtown Master Plan and its construction at the corner of Front and Pattee streets will be a windfall for the city center.
"It's a huge step forward in the implementation of that plan," Buchanan said. "There's no question in my mind it will be a catalyst for investment in the downtown area there."
Of course, the dream is one thing, and the budget is another. MacArthur and Missoula Parking Commission director Anne Guest both said some bold ideas may not make the final cut if they don't fit the budget.
"The reality is, how much can we afford?" Guest said. "I mean, you can build concrete ugly and get a lot of parking. Does the Parking Commission want that? Absolutely not. We feel a tremendous responsibility to build parking, have it be user friendly, but at the same time have it be attractive."
So here are the ideas MMW wants to incorporate into the building, if the budget permits. One design theme is a structure that considers transportation in an era of rising fuel costs and concern about carbon footprints.
• Parking structures have great big roofs, and MacArthur said this roof has clear exposure to the south. So photovoltaic panels could go up to both generate electricity and also shade the cars parked on top.
"We think we could potentially have this building generate as much electricity as it uses," he said. Of course, installing panels depends on cost.
• Electrical receptacles for each car space also are on tap for the garage. "As increasingly, people are using their electric cars, they would be able to plug in and recharge at the garage as well," he said, and all without using fossil fuels. The outcome would be a "net zero commute."
• Storage for bicycles also is on the table. The garage would feature fully enclosed lockers that protect bikes. MacArthur also said a small work area is under consideration.
"We were thinking there would be a little maintenance place to pump up your bike tire, (and offer) some more support for bike activity," he said.
• One focus for the garage is energy reduction. Such structures don't use heat, but typically use a lot of light, the architect said. So the building will use as much natural light as possible, and also put some lights on sensors.
• The garage may offer some spaces for a car sharing program, such as Zipcar. In that program, people swipe a credit card on a device mounted to the car windshield, the doors unlock, and the drivers pay as they go. MacArthur said downtown employees who sometimes need cars for work might be more inclined to bike, walk or bus to work if they knew they could hop into a shared car if needed.
"If we allocated a dozen spaces or something to Zipcars, that could actually reduce the demand (for parking) in the city by a lot more than that dozen," MacArthur said.
He said the project will be built with LEED principles in mind and if possible also will be LEED certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is an in-depth "green" building certification.
The look for the outside of the building is up in the air, but MacArthur said it should be something that fits into the older neighborhood, the planned "retail hot spot," and possibly the nearby cultural district noted in the Downtown Master Plan.
"This building should be a really good part of that urban fabric down there and have a great street presence and be something that's positive," MacArthur said.
If it's hard for you to imagine what a zippy and progressive parking garage looks like, hop online. TheCoolist.com, a design website, has a list of the top 10 "Incredible Parking Garage Designs."
Along with one built under an old theater and another with a mesh skin, it names the colorful Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Garage as tops. It's the first LEED-certified such structure and "one of the world's most visually progressive."
"Its stunning facade is lit with an offset array of colored light, in blue, green and red," reads the website. "Photovoltaic panels and laminations provide much of the buildings power needs, while natural ventilation takes care of climate control."
So fun parking garages can be done. Indeed, the MRA's Buchanan said she's seen them herself.
"Portland is full of them. They've got some that you really have to squint to tell it's a parking garage," she said.
Guest said the Parking Commission has wanted to build a parking structure on the southeast corner of Front and Pattee for 15 years. Once all the agreements are signed and sealed, the Missoula Parking Commission will own the structure.
The building will include a basement for parking, a street level for retail or commercial, and then four or five more stories. It will sit in the big empty space next to The Trailhead, and it will serve the entire community, like the other parking garage does.
"This is not a parking structure for First Interstate Bank," Guest said of the bank selling land for the deal. "This is a parking structure to benefit the public at that retail hot spot."
She said the garage also fits into the long-term plan for parking downtown. It will fill in the gap for some parking spaces that will be removed in the future near the riverfront at Caras Park.
Design will happen this winter and spring, and come summer, construction should begin. In the meantime, one parking matter is up in the air, and that's the name of the building.
"We can't keep calling it the East Front Street Parking Structure. ... I think people are trying to brainstorm a good name," MacArthur said.