4th Street parking garage update: Public art wrapped up, security firm hired for overnight patrols

By mid-afternoon on Thursday, workers had completed the installation of the colorful quilt-patterned panels on three sides of the new 4th Street parking garage in downtown Bloomington.

As they were packing up their gear, the crew from Ignition Arts, which did the fabrication and installation of the piece, told The B Square they were glad to have wrapped up the work before Christmas Eve.

The garage has been open for parking since Aug. 23.

Since its opening, a collection of incidents at the garage, in combination with city staffing challenges, has led the public works department to add some private security patrols.

On Tuesday, the board of public works approved a $2,325 contract with Marshall Security through the end of January, to provide monitoring of the 4th Street garage during overnight hours.

The payment system for the garage was not immediately operational when the garage opened, but it has since been installed. That means it’s possible to start trying to track occupancy levels, which have mostly been only a fraction of the 540-space capacity.

Public art

The public art piece for the garage, which was conceived by Project One Studio and fabricated by Ignition Arts, started at the end of November.

It’s called “Urban Fabric.”

The art consists of vast panels of multi-colored aluminum wedges that are meant to evoke a quilt.

To the untrained eye, the installation has looked complete for a little while. But over the last few days, the Ignition Arts crew has been working to add several colored triangles in places where intentional gaps had been left in the panels, when they were fabricated in the shop.

The gaps allowed access to brackets, which were installed on the concrete panels of the garage, to which the panels were bolted.

The thousands of triangles were individually cut, sanded, and painted in the Ignition Arts shop.

Security patrols

Bloomington public works director Adam Wason told the board of public works on Tuesday that there have been some recent incidents of vandalism at the garage. Both of the bathrooms were out of service that night, because of a blockage that Wason said was believed to have been intentional.

There had been a strong push from the public for inclusion of public toilets in the design of the new parking garage, specifically toilets with 24/7 access. The public toilets in the garage were finished in early December.

Wason told The B Square that the kind of vandalism that was being seen at the 4th Street parking garage included a couple of nights where people had taken up residence. On another occasion, there were several leftover vodka bottles and trash.

The private company being tapped for patrols at the garage through the end of January 2022 is Marshall Security. That’s the same firm the parks department has hired to do overnight patrols of Switchyard Park.

Marshall officers will basically extend the loop that they make from Switchyard Park to include the 4th Street parking garage.

Why can’t city public works staff maintain a 24/7 presence in the garage? On Tuesday, Wason told the board of public works that staffing is a challenge right now. “We’re having employment transitions and trying to get some folks hired for some more overnight shifts,” Wason said.

Wason added, “We’re trying to get some interviews set up…to fill a couple open customer service and security positions that we have that are full time city employees.”

Wason said it’s not expected that the contract with Marshall for 4th Street garage patrols would need to extend past the end of January. If an extension is needed, he would be back in front of the board with that request, Wason said.

Occupancy of the garage

The payment system for the garage was not operational when it first opened on Aug. 23.

Based on B Square manual counts, daytime occupancy during the week is around an average of 110 or so, which is not near the 540-car capacity for the garage. That’s despite the fact that the city has sold 370 monthly permits for the garage.

On weekend evenings, the garage is reportedly seeing a lot more use for patrons of various entertainment venues. That pattern was borne out on the day after Thanksgiving, when The B Square counted just 30 cars parked around 1:30 p.m.

But towards the start of the Canopy of Lights ceremony on the courthouse square, which took place that same evening, the count was 309 and still climbing. The following day (Saturday), The B Square counted 48 cars in the early afternoon hours.

The numbers from the entry/exit reports for the 4th Street garage— from Nov. 28 to Dec. 11—are pretty much consistent with that pattern. The free parking on Saturdays, for the holiday period, makes the picture a little murkier, because entries and exits don’t get counted when no fee is charged.

The word from city staff is that the software rollout for entry/exit is not yet complete. So the entry/exit reports may not be an ideal resource, if the goal is to see an accurate daily occupancy count.

Even if the plot of 4th Street parking garage occupancy for a two-week period has to be taken with a grain of salt, it does appear to be consistent with a weekend evening entertainment pattern. The two Fridays show a rapid drop towards late afternoon, followed by a sharp rise in the early evening.