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Originally published May 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 23, 2007 at 2:55 PM

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Corrected version

Council asks zoo if money for garage could be better spent

A majority of the Seattle City Council now wants the Woodland Park Zoo to reconsider plans for a new 710-stall garage, and perhaps build...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A majority of the Seattle City Council now wants the Woodland Park Zoo to reconsider plans for a new 710-stall garage, and perhaps build a smaller one.

The council's new view on zoo parking comes three years after it unanimously approved plans for the garage and a month after it unanimously voted to sell bonds for garage construction.

In a letter to the Woodland Park Zoo Society, the nonprofit that operates the zoo, council members noted that because of a recent analysis predicting fewer garage users, both the city's and zoo society's shares of the $28 million garage are expected to be more than initially planned. They also said their "understanding about the seriousness of global warming has evolved" and they now see the garage as inconsistent with the city's goal of "reducing our reliance on automobiles."

The letter, received by the zoo this week, was signed by council members Sally Clark, Richard Conlin, Nick Licata, Tom Rasmussen and Peter Steinbrueck. Licata, the council's president, called the letter a "strongly worded message of caution."

But Licata said it's not clear if the council would take action to stop the garage.

"It wasn't easy getting five signatures for the letter," Licata said. "So I don't know how likely it would be for five to go any further."

Zoo society President Deborah Jensen said the zoo does not plan to change the garage.

Garage or no garage, families are inclined to come to the zoo by car, not by mass transit, Jensen said. Zoo visitors average 3.5 people per car, she said. "They already car pool, and they come from all over the region. It's not the kind of trip that's amenable to transit solutions."

Even if they all drove to the zoo in biofueled or electric cars, "they're still going to need a place to park," she said.

The zoo wants a new garage because it can't meet parking demands about 100 days of the year. Zoo officials also expect attendance and parking needs to increase.

About 55 percent of visitors now park in the 654 uncovered stalls available at the zoo. Others park on nearby streets in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood. The zoo has averaged a little more than 1 million visitors annually in recent years.

The city owns the zoo, and the zoo society manages it under a 20-year agreement. The city's share of the garage cost is estimated at $12 million by council staff. Garage users and the zoo society would pay the rest.

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The zoo initially planned an underground garage on the zoo's south side, which residents supported. But Mayor Greg Nickels scrapped it, saying it was too expensive. He supports the proposed four-story garage on the zoo's west side.

The Phinney Ridge Community Council has opposed the above-ground garage, saying it's too big, costly and would add to traffic problems. Some neighborhood residents support it.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174

Clarification: Information in this article, originally published May 18, was corrected May 18. A previous version of this story contained a misleading sentence about the cost of a planned garage. It said City Council members said the "$28 million garage would cost more than the $16 million initially projected." Instead, it should have said council members were concerned the city's share of the garage cost would likely increase by $4 million because of revised projections by council staff about parking revenues. Initial projections of garage construction costs have not changed. It was estimated to cost $16 million (in 2004 dollars) and financing costs, including interest, would bring the total to $28 million (in 2004 dollars).

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