Now it's time for action.
Starting as early as June, environmental cleanup crews will begin extracting pools of petroleum buried beneath the parking garage construction site in Railroad Square off Moulton Way, city officials said.
When the cleanup is finished, construction on the garage should begin between March and July of next year and last about 18 months, they said. The garage could open before Christmas 2010 - a boost to the city's ongoing downtown renaissance.
A lack of downtown parking is taking a toll on businesses and residents.
InstallerNet, a software development and installation company, was downtown at 88 Essex St. but moved to a location with ample parking in North Andover this month.
Employees were routinely 15 to 20 minutes late because they were looking for parking, and snowstorms made the situation even worse, said William Sheehan, InstallerNet's director of business development.
"The parking situation absolutely had something to do with the decision to get out," Sheehan said.
Linda Rill, who lives in a downtown condominium at 21 Wingate St., said the lack of a garage is discouraging people from moving to the city's center to fill empty apartments and condos.
"It's desperately needed and should be here already," Rill said of the garage.
The first step to build the garage is to clean pollutants from the site, the former home of Ted's Tires automotive supply company, said Andrew Herlihy, the mayor's chief of staff.
The city has a $200,000 federal grant to clean the Ted's Tires site, which is a parking lot, Herlihy said. Construction cannot start until the cleanup is completed.
"We don't want the cleanup to hold up the construction," Herlihy said. "So my goal ... is to have it cleaned up within 14 to 18 months. We need to get in there and do the cleanup."
The cleaning crew will probe beneath the parking lot to remove the petroleum pools without closing the lot to vehicles, Herlihy said. The petroleum is sitting on top of groundwater about 8 feet deep.
Meanwhile, final construction plans for the parking garage will be drafted and finalized in the next 14 to 18 months by the Merrimack Valley Regional Planning Authority, which is in charge of the project. Herlihy said the planning authority plans to hire an architect within weeks to draw affordable plans.