City's new parking garage opens to vehicles today

The wait for downtown parking spaces is about to get a lot shorter.

A new city parking garage � with more than 500 spaces available for public use � will open by the end of today in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, City Manager Mike Wildgen said.

Thursday, city officials signed papers to formally accept the $6 million garage from the project's general contractor, Mar Lan Construction LLC. The Lawrence company beat a completion deadline of Dec. 31.

"It'll be great to have the facility open in time for the Christmas and fall (shopping) seasons," Wildgen said. "People have been very patient. We've appreciated that. � It's going to help downtown in the long run."

The garage will welcome vehicles just as soon as crews can clear construction fences and place lane stripes in the 900 block of New Hampshire, which has been closed to traffic for more than a year. Wildgen expects two-way traffic to resume as early as noon.

Parking is free for two hours on the garage's street level. Parking on upper levels costs $1 per use � whether its for eight minutes or eight hours � each day.

Gale Lantis, co-owner of Mar Lan, said his company still had plenty of work in the area, a mixed-use development that ultimately will include retail shops, professional offices, loft-style apartments and a new Lawrence Arts Center. Last week the company landed an $11,000 job to finish off spaces in the garage for city offices.

But having the biggest piece done, he said, is a relief � especially in time to handle shoppers coming to town this weekend for Kansas University's homecoming football game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

"It's always a good feeling to bring them in ahead of schedule," Lantis said.

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