FIFTH STREET — One of the final missing pieces in a plan to improve public parking in Downtown will soon fall in the hands of City Hall.

With the authorization of the City Council last week, officials are moving forward with the purchase of a two-story commercial building at 1334 Fifth St., acquiring property that will give City Hall a cumulative 67,500 square feet on the block to create more parking.

The 7,500 square foot property, which will be purchased for $5 million, is currently owned by Sunnyside Group and houses two tenants — Hershey Associates, a communications firm that operates both a for and nonprofit branch, and Ezai Florist.

Hershey Associates’ lease is set to expire at the end of 2012 while the florist is on year-to-year terms.

The building will be purchased as part of the Downtown Parking Strategy, a three-year-old program that seeks to meet the parking needs in Downtown for the next 10 years by seismically upgrading existing public structures, demolishing and reconstructing three garages along Second and Fourth streets, and adding new spaces.

City Hall has over the past two years purchased a number of properties in the 1300 block of Fifth Street, including approximately 52,500 square feet for $30.9 million in September 2007 and a 15,000 square foot parcel, which houses Carlson’s Appliance and an adjacent parking lot, for $6 million in October of that same year. City Hall owns everything on the Westside of the 1300 block from the corner of Arizona Avenue to the Carlson’s Appliance building, Miriam Mack, the economic development manager for City Hall, said.

“With the conclusion of escrow (for 1334 Fifth St.), we will own a good-sized parcel that will give the city flexibility in the future to plan and prepare and construct a project that might include parking or other public purposes,” Mack said.

Mack expects to close on the building in the next two months. City Hall could also seek additional tenants on short-term leases, she said.

“It all depends on how soon planning begins on what is being planned for the property,” Mack said.

Yen Nguyen, whose flower shop has been in the same location for more than four years, expressed concerns about whether her business will be invited to return if a new development with retail spaces is constructed, adding that she will look for a warehouse space if the rent is too high.

She added that most of her business comes from online and phone clients, not through pedestrian traffic, which she said is lacking on Fifth Street.

There are few retailers on the quiet street, including Whole Foods and The Acorn Store.

“I don’t necessary need to be here,” she said. “But right now the price is right and the location is good so that’s why I stay here.

“For any other business, it’s not a realistic location to be because the traffic is so minimal.”

Christine Hershey, the founder and president of Hershey Associates, said she has yet to speak to city officials about her lease. Hershey Associates has been in the building for the past 12 years.

“From a renovation standpoint, I think the last thing Downtown needs is a big parking lot,” she said.

City officials have yet to determine what will be constructed along Fifth Street and whether it will be just a parking structure or include a mix of commercial and public use.

Mack said she is hopeful that planning will begin in the next several years.

Whatever is constructed could have the opportunity to activate pedestrian life on Fifth Street, said Mayor Ken Genser, who suggested that a parking structure could be constructed beneath a town square, public park or retail spaces.

“It’s not an interesting place for people to walk,” he said. “Something like a town square or commercial frontage could be very nice.”

He added that placing more parking spaces on Fifth Street would help disperse traffic on Fourth Street, which is home to three public garages.

“Another benefit … is we’ll get more people to walk from the parking (structure) to the promenade and energize that part of Downtown,” he said.

Portions of the Downtown Parking Strategy are currently underway at several of the structures on Fourth Street, which are being redesigned and seismically upgraded. City Hall is currently seeking a designer to head up the reconstruction of Structure 1 on Fourth Street and Structure 6 on Second Street. Demolition is expected to take place within the next two years. The Public Works Department is currently updating estimates, which are about two-years outdated, for the construction projects.

“We’re going full steam ahead,” Mack said.

melodyh@smdp.com

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