City purchases three lots from minor league baseball owners to preserve future downtown parking
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Parking in downtown Visalia during major events can get tight, but the City of Visalia is at least working toward making sure it doesn’t get worse.
On Nov. 5, the City announced it had closed the deal on Oct. 19 to purchase three parking lots from Top of the Third, the ownership group operating the Visalia Rawhide, between Redwood High School and Rawhide Stadium. The total purchase price was $309,679.72 for lots at 1301 W. Oak Ave. and two adjacent lots located at 205 and 217 N. Dudley St.
Deputy City Manager Mario Cifuentez said only $95,553 from the general fund was used to purchase the lot on Oak Avenue. The Dudley Street lots cost $214,126 and were purchased using money from the City’s Downtown Parking District. The district is funded by in-lieu parking fees charged to new development as well as parking passes permitted throughout the downtown.
The lots are in a crucial part of western downtown where semi-pro sports, high school sports and performing arts all compete for limited space on the streets. Cifuentez said the minor league baseball team purchased the three lots in August 2015 for $166,816.23, but asked for a larger number to recover costs associated with asbestos and lead testing as soil sample expenditures of an underground tank required by the City during the purchase. The sites were used as parking lots until complaints of dust forced the team to discontinue use of the lots.
During negotiations in May 2017 to extend the lease between the City and the Rawhide for use of the stadium, Rawhide ownership offered to sell the vacant lots to the City. The City approved the purchase of the lots at its March 19 meeting on a 3-2 vote. Mayor Warren Gubler and councilmember Greg Collins voted against the project because they were not in favor of purchasing property from the baseball ownership group while they were attempting to strike a long term deal.
Councilmember Steve Nelson praised the idea as a solution to the parking congestion in an area that could have a high school softball game, minor league baseball game and a community theater play all going on at the same time.
“Where do they park?” Nelson asked. “I’m in favor of providing parking in an area that doesn’t have any parking.”
Cifuentez said the city plans to pave and improve the dirt lots on Dudley to create parking that does not create a dust hazard. He said those plans will likely move forward next year because improvements can be paid for out of the Downtown Parking District. No timeline was given to improve the lots. There are no plans to improve the lot on Oak Avenue because it would have to come out of the general fund.