COLUMBIA — The City Council will vote Monday evening at 7 p.m. on plans to build a new parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets, and interviews with council members indicate the plans will be approved. The new parking structure would be among the tallest in Columbia, second only to The Tiger Hotel.
The parking garage would be eight or nine stories tall, with the lower level including retail space and police parking. The garage would have 661 parking spaces, including 47 or 48 spaces reserved for the police. Several council members think it would provide more parking downtown, while helping to eliminate surface parking that could be used to bring new businesses into the area.
Fourth Ward City Councilman Jerry Wade thinks the new parking garage would benefit the downtown area. Sixth Ward representative Barbara Hoppe supports the garage, but said she hopes it will be the last parking structure the city needs downtown, and that mass transit and other alternatives will pick up any remaining slack. Mayor Darwin Hindman agrees that the project is a good idea.
"We've had consultants come in and study the situation, and they advise us that we need more parking," Hindman said.
Trying for a better use of space
Wade said the idea was to eliminate surface parking, which takes up space that could be put to better use.
"We're hoping that by building this garage, that in effect, we'll be making areas available for building," Hindman said. "This enables us to concentrate retail in the downtown area, which is good for downtown."
New Second Ward City Councilman Jason Thornhill said that although he doesn't know all the details of the project yet, he thinks it is important to use valuable downtown space wisely.
"It's good any time we can eliminate surface parking," Thornhill said.
The "awfully big, awfully tall" garage will feature retail space on its ground floor, a mixed-use pedestrian-friendly addition that Hoppe said she has long supported.
"Parking garages with nothing but parking on the bottom level can make it a disconnected space for pedestrians and people in general," Hoppe said.
Looking at other options, too
Hoppe said she hoped that future parking needs would be addressed by options like mass transit improvements, shuttles and even a free downtown trolley system like those found in Branson or Durgango, Colo., and that the city would not find it necessary to construct parking structures in the future.
"I would hope this should address our parking needs forever," Hoppe said.
Last April, the council adopted a resolution declaring the necessity of constructing the project. Plans for the proposed parking garage were presented to the council on Oct. 6, 2008, during a public hearing by Walker Parking Consultants and Peckman and Wright Architects.
"This is the first time we've tried that in Columbia," Wade said. "It's just a better use of space than parking cars on it."
The public wouldn't have to worry about paying more taxes to fund the new project because the bonds for the garage would be paid through parking utility.
Still, the parking garage has its critics. Some downtown business owners have expressed concerns about the building's seismic durability and whether the parking structure would cause more congested traffic downtown. Others think the building is much too tall, but Wade disagrees.
"All the other parking garages are at capacity," Wade said. "This parking garage will fill up very quickly."
Though the proposed ordinance is listed on the council's agenda as "old business," members of the community are invited to speak on the matter before it is put to a vote.
Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.