COLUMBIA — It cost more to keep the lights on in the first month of operation at the new downtown parking garage than the city collected for public parking, and the lights themselves are attracting criticism.
Revenue in March from public parking in the new garage at Fifth and Walnut streets: $2,735.
The electric bill during the same month: $3,298.
During its first month of operation, overall revenue from the new garage totaled $23,362. But the Columbia Police Department accounted for $20,736 of that amount with 48 annual permits at a cost of $432 per space.
The city sold 18 public permits in March to park in the garage. Those permits brought in $2,608, along with $126 in hourly fees, Public Works spokeswoman Jill Stedem said.
"The utility bill for the new parking garage is not out of line in comparison to other city garages due to its size," Stedem said.
Mayor Bob McDavid said increasing revenue in the garage is more important than the cost of electricity: "The electricity bill is one thing; driving up revenue is another."
However, he also said the cost of electricity is an issue.
"Obviously, it's a problem," McDavid said. "We also need to look at lowering electric bills."
The lights in the garage, meanwhile, are attracting their own attention.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she's received about 20 complaints about the lighting. She also said she has noticed the "lighting problem."
"Because the parking lot is so high, at night the lights are not shielded, and you can see them from quite a distance," Hoppe said.
Hoppe said she hasn't seen this issue with other downtown parking garages.
"I just don't know if the people who designed and built the structure took into account how the lights would look at night from below," Hoppe said. "If they took that into account, they might have missed something."
Environment and Energy Commission Chairman Dan Goldstein said the advisory board last month discussed complaints about garage lighting with City Council members.
"We need specifics on everything, from legal requirements on how much lighting is needed and fixtures to maintain light in the garage," Goldstein said. "Without options and numbers, we can't make a recommendation."
Goldstein said one alternative the commission will discuss is installing blinds on the sides of the lights to help keep light inside the garage.
Stedem said the interior and exterior lights, which are LED lights, at the Fifth and Walnut streets garage are on light and/or time sensors. The interior lights can be adjusted because they are on time sensors, but adjusting the brightness is not possible, Stedem said.
For now, the interior lights will always be on. That also includes the fluorescent lights in the glassed-in stairwells, which are also on timers, Stedem said.
"For safety issues, the interior lights will be staying on," Stedem said.
Goldstein said the commission will look into a way to keep the garages safe without keeping the lights on all day.
"I don't know if it's a good reason," Goldstein said. "My first reaction is, 'Why are they on all day?'"
Frank Cunningham, energy services supervisor in the Water and Light department, said the lighting could be re-evaluated to determine whether lowering the electric bill is a possibility.
"There's always potential," Cunningham said. "Right now, they need to evaluate how the building was commissioned and to make sure everything is operating as it was designed to."
He said that contractor equipment could have added to the electric bill in March.
Cunningham said looking at lighting in the stairwells would be a simple option and should be addressed, but might not save much money. "In overall cost, there probably isn't a big difference," he said.
The next Environment and Energy Commission meeting is set for 7 p.m. April 26 at City Hall.