COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid expressed doubts Monday about how the city would finance a new parking garage on Short Street — hours before the Columbia City Council was being asked to approve buying land for the garage.
McDavid said he wants more detail about financing for the proposed garage, which is part of a plan to redevelop the adjacent Regency Hotel.
"I do have doubts about the Short Street garage financial model," McDavid said.
The council was poised to vote Monday evening on spending $1.25 million for two lots on Short Street to accommodate the proposed garage. McDavid said before that city staff had yet to answer questions about how the city would pay for the $7 million facility.
McDavid said he was not going to vote on Monday without financial details.
McDavid said the city needs to look at the expenses, how the bondholders would be repaid and how much revenue would come from charging customers.
City staff was going to limit its presentation to the council to the financial state of the parking utility department, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said on Monday. He said that to pay off the bonds, the city could dip into the "healthy" reserves of the parking utility.
St. Romaine said there are other ways to generate additional revenue to help pay for the garage. Although nothing has been decided, he mentioned raising parking meter rates as one possibility.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said that she had "healthy skepticism" about a new parking garage.
“I’m still not convinced about the need for another parking garage," Hoppe said, noting the city just opened a 10-story garage at Fifth and Walnut streets. She still wanted to see facts about the Fifth and Walnut garage and the total parking situation before making a decision about the Short Street garage.
Hoppe said parking availability downtown is important.
"You don't want to force people to walk or bike if they're not inclined to do so," Hoppe said. "You want to have enough parking, but it's a balance."
If approved, the Short Street garage would be a maximum of six stories and would have 300 spaces, with 100 spaces would be leased by Broadway Lodging for the new hotel. At least 25 percent of the spaces would be metered parking.
Dave Parmley, who is in charge of the Regency Hotel redevelopment project, would pay $660 per year per space. The realignment of Short Street would also create 11 new city spaces that Broadway Lodging would lease.
St. Romaine said there is support from the community, including the North Village Arts District neighborhood and Stephens College President Dianne Lynch, who wrote a letter to City Manager Bill Watkins in support of the proposed garage.
“I haven’t heard a whole lot of opposition," St. Romaine said. "I have certainly heard overwhelming support for the need of that garage.”
St. Romaine also said that he believes the Short Street garage "would be fully well subscribed" when it would open.
"The issue is trying to figure out how we can afford this garage financially, if we can," St. Romaine said.
McDavid said the Fifth and Walnut garage is going to deplete cash flow for the parking utility. Parking meter revenue, which brings in $800,000 annually, will be largely used to pay for the Fifth and Walnut garage.
"The parking utility can't lose money," McDavid said. "We can't support the parking utility department with the general funds."
One group that could make a difference with an endorsement is the Special Business District Board.
“We need to get some input from the people that are most affected, that is downtown Special Business District owners," St. Romaine said.
However, that endorsement will not come before Monday's City Council meeting.
When asked about the future of downtown parking, including the garage, Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Special Business District Board, said any response would need to come from her board.
She said the Short Street garage was on the agenda, as well as a longer discussion about parking rights, for the board's regular monthly meeting.