The project has a price tag between $15 million and $20 million.
"It's just trying to take one of the best lifestyle centers, that is 85 years old, and making sure it's viable for the future," said Geoffrey Glazer, vice president of acquisitions and development for shopping center owner Kimco Realty's Mid-Atlantic Region.
Glazer said Tuesday that one of the biggest challenges in wooing and retaining high-end retail tenants has been the lack of parking, especially on weekends.
The proposed 600-space garage would rise on the 266-space surface lot that runs from the back of the Apple Store to Urban Outfitters, and between Montgomery and Coulter Avenues. Because the lot slopes between the streets, the garage would rise from three levels near Coulter to four levels closer to Montgomery.
New storefronts would be in the garage's ground level along Coulter Avenue; more retail space would come from replacing the commuter parking strip near the Amtrak and SEPTA tracks, Glazer said.
The commuter spots, which require a small fee, would move to part of the lot across Anderson Avenue from Ruby's Diner. Drivers could park at no cost in the garage and at the surface lots, he said.
"This should be an improvement, at least to the existing internal traffic flow" in the shopping center, Charles B. Howland, Planning Commission cochair, said Tuesday.
The plan also could lead to an expansion of Trader Joe's in the rear parking lot, though that piece still is being discussed.
Robert E. Duncan, Lower Merion's director of building and planning, said the project would need a couple of amendments to township codes, including accommodating the proposed garage in the part of the lot nearest Montgomery Avenue, which is zoned for residential construction.
Neighborhood groups already have sat down with Kimco. At a meeting of the North Ardmore Civic Association, members were concerned about pedestrian safety and increased traffic on roads, particularly residential streets, near the shopping center.
If township approval goes smoothly, Glazer said, ground could be broken for the garage as early as the spring of 2015.