COLUMBIA — Parking difficulties in downtown Columbia could soon be a thing of the past.
On Monday night, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to build a new parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets. The structure would provide 660 parking spaces, including 48 underground spaces reserved for police. Council members expressed support for the project because they said it would provide much-needed downtown parking while saving surface space for future business development opportunities.
"The only way that we can begin to remove street level parking and make it available for more intensive commercial and business use is to start going up with our parking capability," said Fourth Ward City Councilman Jerry Wade. "It is part of the transformation that's going to have to take place with downtown to create the growing economic engine."
The eight- or nine-story garage will have 13,000 square feet of retail space, which the city will lease to businesses. According to John Glascock, chief engineer for the city, there is already a waiting list of prospective tenants who will have to be approved by the council. Two elevator towers will be at the northwest and southeast corners of the garage. The estimated cost of the project is $15 million, but none of that will be covered by general tax revenue.
As far as appearance of the structure, Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala raised the idea of "something indigenous," such as cascading plants, to "soften the effect" of the enormous parking garage. The Commission for Public Art will be involved with the design process of the outside of the building, which will be red brick on bottom and beige on top.
"It is going to be a very large building," Skala said. "It's going to be an imposing structure in our downtown."
Elton Fay, who owns a law firm west of the garage's future site, said he believes the structure would be "out of place for that part of the city."
"It will be an eyesore to the downtown area," Fay said. "We would ask for them to limit the height to be consistent with other parking garages."
Fay said he believes the structure should be "four stories tall, six at the maximum," and has concern with the building's seismic durability. He said he thinks the garage will cause more traffic problems in the already congested downtown area.
"We ask for safety in the area. We ask for crosswalks from Fifth Street to Walnut, but we still don't have them," Fay said. "That is the most dangerous intersection in the downtown area, with almost an accident a week. We're going to kill somebody here."
Wade said he believes the project is more than a parking garage; it is part of the transformation downtown needs in order to have a strong, vital economy.