Columbia City Council tables acquisition for Short Street garage

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 | 12:07 a.m. CST; updated 11:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, September 26, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council tabled a proposed agreement Monday to purchase land downtown to construct a parking garage on Short Street.

If the City Council approves buying the land from Broadway Lodging LLC for $1.25 million at a future meeting, the city will build a $7 million parking garage on the property. Customers from the Regency Hotel redevelopment and other nearby businesses would primarily use the garage. At its last meeting, the council approved tax-increment financing assistance for the hotel.

The garage would have 300 spaces, of which Broadway Lodging would lease 100 for the hotel. At least 25 percent of the spots would be metered parking.

In a 45-minute discussion, the council and city staff discussed how the city could pay for the garage. Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romainementioned the possibility of raising the price of metered parking downtown, citing Columbia's low rates compared to other cities. St. Romaine also talked about the possibility of extending the hours on parking meters downtown.

Mayor Bob McDavid, who said earlier Monday he would not vote on the bill without more financial details, supported the decision to table the issue. 

"What we've learned tonight is that the owners of the Regency intend to build a boutique hotel that is going to be a gem of the city whether we put a parking garage in or not," McDavid said. "Secondly, we've learned that there is not enough money in the Parking Utility to build this garage without parking (fee) increases."

In an earlier Missourian report, McDavid said the Fifth and Walnut garage is going to deplete cash flow for the Parking Utility. Parking meter revenue, which brings in roughly $800,000 annually, will be largely used to pay for the new Fifth and Walnut garage.

McDavid repeatedly said that if the agreement was approved at Monday's meeting, the city would be in effect passing a recommendation for substantial parking fee increases without input.

"If we pass this parking garage, we are raising parking meter fees," McDavid said. 

St. Romaine said government is responsible for supplying parking spaces for businesses. He gave the example of Commerce Bank, which was willing to do renovations downtown because of parking availability. 

"We have been subsidizing these garages since we started building the first one behind the City Hall 20 to 25 years ago," St. Romaine said.

St. Romaine said the indirect impact of parking garages usually goes unnoticed.

"When (residents) come downtown, they spend money in bars and restaurants and movie theaters," St. Romaine said. "As a result of that, those sales taxes come back to the city." 

Robert Hollis, attorney for Broadway Lodging, said there wasn't a set date to begin construction on the hotel but said delaying a decision on the garage was detrimental to the Regency project.

"It would be a disaster to try to construct a garage after the hotel is already in place," Hollis said.

When McDavid asked Hollis if the developers could wait a month for the decision, Hollis said they needed an answer in two weeks.

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said the Parking Utility is estimated to lose money over the next few years. He said he wanted to see how raising parking-related fees would help.

"I would like to get a commitment from the (downtown Special Business District) to look into parking fees," Kespohl said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she is anticipating a work session to look at parking needs in the wake of the Fifth and Walnut parking garage opening. She added she hadn't seen sufficient information to justify a Short Street garage.

"The Regency owner has said all along he doesn't need a parking structure for building what he needs to build," Hoppe said. 

The City Council will review the proposed ordinance at its March 21 meeting.

At Monday's meeting, the council asked for a recommendation from the Special Business District Board on the garage. The Special Business District Board meets Tuesday at 4 p.m., and the Short Street garage is on the agenda. But because the board only meets monthly, Executive Director Carrie Gartner plans to ask the board to have an extra meeting to continue working on a response for the City Council.

"I can commit to recommending to my board that we have a special meeting within two weeks," Gartner said. "The decision will be up to them, but that might help with the time line."

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John M. Nowell, III March 8, 2011 | 10:25 a.m.

"We have been subsidizing these garages since we started building the first one behind the City Hall 20 to 25 years ago," St. Romaine said.

Kudos to Tony for stating the truth about parking garages. It is something I've long suspected, but had no data to back it up. With the changing out of the street parking meters, the city needs to install a new system for the garages as well. It is on the honor system, and I doubt that 100 % of the users pay for parking.

Extending the hours of parking meter enforcement is also long overdue. Drive downtown at night, and almost all of the street parking is full. In this economy, it would be no problem to hire some part time meter maids to police the meters to a much later time, thus increasing income without raising rates. The city wouldn't have to buy any more vehicles, or provide any full time benifits to make this happen. The extra income would more than offset the added expense of gasoline and labor. Right now the bars, restaurants and other businesses open late have an advantage over the other businesses downtown as their customers can park free. I would also guess that from a maintenace aspect the after hours crowd leaves more for the street crews to clean up.

MU students use 9th. Street as an auxillary parking lot overnight and feed the meters during class hours.

The other issue with downtown is that alot of the owners and their employees that work downtown arrive prior to opening, and fill up most if not all of the street parking, making their customes use the garages or walk a greater distance to shop. If you want to increase downtown business, this is the first step. Carrie Gartner and the DMA need to address this issue. In this electronic age and all the smart technical people at the university, a system could be developed to track the garage usage and make a report availabe to business managers to enforce garage parking by their employees, leaving the close spots for their customers. Business 101.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 8, 2011 | 10:59 a.m.

I'm not sure why Tony St. Romaine thinks it's the government's responsibility to build parking garages. I was in Kansas City this past weekend and the garage I parked at was owned by Hallmark if I recall correctly; it certainly wasn't owned by Kansas City.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 8, 2011 | 12:09 p.m.

It's raining out.

Do I really need to go by and look?

The last time I did there was a parking garage next to the hotel already.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire March 8, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.

Maybe this will be an opportunity for some conservatives to be conservative for a few minutes.

Or maybe not.

(Report Comment)
Fritz Otweiler March 8, 2011 | 2:39 p.m.

When you've lived in town longer than the 20 or 25 years St. Romane is talking about (and that's not data, folks, that's a generalization), then you know that the parking garage on Cherry is the first, not the one behind City Hall. Maybe the city wouldn't need to subsidize the parking if it didn't continue building so many parking garages.
Trying to drive business to downtown stores on the basis of metered parking in a garage four to five blocks away makes about as much sense as a one-way loop around the business district, a city slogan that attempts to celebrate the fact that no one can agree on a city slogan, or trying to get people to commercialize an unimproved alley while citizens are stuck in traffic jams caused by delivery trucks in the streets who can't use the alleys.
How about this--don't build another parking garage until you have to raise meter rates due to demand, instead of due to the need to pay for empty parking garages.
St. Romane's the same guy who gets his development advice from Vince Schoemel, right?

(Report Comment)

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