SPRINGDALE – Washington County will give $1 million in seed money towards a $4.3 million parking structure in Springdale to help absorb lost on-street parking on state Route 9 and alleviate overcrowding issues from Zion National Park tourism.
The upcoming reconstruction of SR-9 through Springdale will eliminate parking along the highway from the Hampton Inn to Lion Boulevard, Springdale Mayor Stan Smith said, and leave the town short on places to park.
The Washington County Commission committed the $1 million in a meeting June 6; the funds will come from tourism and recreation taxes, which by law must be spent on tourism-related projects.
The town is now in negotiations with a private party that owns property near Balanced Rock Road to build the structure in a public-private partnership, Smith said.
The private party will provide approximately $3 million in addition to the $1 million from Washington County, which will be paid back within about 10 years.
Details of the partnership are still being finalized, Smith said, but the parking structure is expected to have 210 stalls. The town approved a preliminary plan for the parking structure in July 2016.
“A million dollars sounds like a lot of money until you start figuring out that a parking structure is about $14,000 a stall,” Smith said. “So you don’t get a whole lot of parking stalls for $1 million.”
Once an agreement is finalized, the builder will have to go through the design and approval phase with the Springdale Planning Commission.
Construction on SR-9 through Springdale is expected to begin in October and continue through April 2018, Smith said.
While Smith would like to see the parking structure completed by the time SR-9 construction is finished, there is no set timeline yet.
The parking structure will be designed to fit the aesthetics of the town, Smith said, which will be more expensive but will be worth it.
“It will blend into the surroundings as much as possible.”
“The beauty of Zion National Park is one of the things that everybody comes to Springdale for,” he said. “You don’t want to ruin that.”
Smith told the County Commission that visitation to Zion National Park has increased from 3 million people when he took office to 4.3 million in 2016 – that in less than three years. Visitation so far this year has increased 11.6 percent, putting the park on track to hit 5 million in 2017.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of those visitors,” Smith said.
During peak holiday weekends, the number of cars far outstrips the number of available parking spaces. Memorial Day weekend, typically the busiest weekend for Zion National Park, was especially bad in 2017.
“People would walk … half a mile up the highway to get on the first shuttle,” Smith said. “There was shuttle after shuttle going through there that was full.”
The biggest contributors to the parking problem in Springdale are “day trippers,” Smith said. St. George hotels are starting to partner with Springdale hotels to arrange daytime parking for their guests.
“So there are some creative ways we’re trying to work with this,” Smith said. Besides a parking structure, Springdale is pushing for public transit to extend from the St. George area to Zion National Park and encouraging walking and bicycling within the town.
Increasing numbers of visitors to Zion National Park has triggered an extensive planning process to address the issue.
Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh has expressed concerns about health and safety issues; diminishing quality of visitor experiences and impacts to soils, vegetation, water, wildlife habitat, soundscapes and cultural resources.
Some of the solutions being proposed include redesigning the south entrance and implementing a timed-entry and reservation system to limit the number of visitors to the park.
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