There is change in the air. More change from your pocket into parking meters to pay for yet another parking garage.
Now the hard question: Why another parking garage in the first place? It would be the sixth in “downtown” Columbia. In fact, there are three parking garages on Cherry Street alone, with the others proposed, or currently on, Walnut Street.
Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting shed some light on the subject, as did talking with Tony St. Romaine, Columbia’s assistant city manager. Afterward, I needed a beer at Sycamore before returning to my Airstream penthouse on the 12th floor of the Walnut Street garage (the Hindman Autoplatz) to contemplate.
What is going on? The council is proposing to increase the rate for parking meters from 30 to 60 cents an hour andto increase rates in the campus district from 50 to 75 cents an hour. This is being done to generate approximately $650,000 in additional revenue to afford issuing $9.25 million in bonds to build the proposed Short Street garage.
The three garages in the core city are located on Cherry on Sixth, Eighth and Tenth streets. I just realized I have never been in the Sixth Street facility. Really, there is a city garage there. The Hitt Street garage is campus parking.
Why another garage at Short Street and Walnut? St. Romaine reminded me of the new 300-unit apartment complex planned for College and Walnut and its proximity to the North Village Arts District. I am sure that the new DoubleTree by Hilton has a lot to do with it. The Regency Hotel* has limited parking, so the new lot is an advantage.
For your additional pocket change, the city will get a new parking lot. But what is the payback for the citizens? The brainstorming began.
I heard rumors of a downtown shuttle service, the Orbiter. St. Romaine verified it does exist, it's called the 106 Brown Downtown. But the buses are camouflaged as regular city buses, cost to ride, show up every 40 minutes (or so) and really do not serve the District.
So, for members of the Council and The District’s merchants, here is the Rosman Plan.
Purchase four new buses for the new shuttle routes. Not just any buses, but enclosed retro-trolley cars with perimeter seating and a lot of standing room. Run the route every 10 minutes on Broadway from the Columbia Public Library to the Boone Hospital Center and on Tenth Street from Worley Street (Columbia College) to the Hitt Street Garage. Make them free shuttles. This is the payback for the citizens.
Cost? St. Romaine told me approximately $500,000 for each bus with the Federal Transportation Administration picking up 80 percent of the cost.
However, $500,000 per bus may be high. David Meck of National Bus Corporation said their Hometown Trolley RE has a base price of about $250,000.
All six public garages are within one block of this proposed system. The majority of downtown businesses fall within the two routes. Create a new transportation district to cover the served areas, including the colleges and MU, so that merchants outside of The District foot part of the bill for drivers, maintenance and the balance the city would have to throw in for the four trolleys. Finally, run the trolleys from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, giving the merchants a reason to stay open past 6 p.m.
This plan will do two things. First, it will keep those working downtown in the area a bit longer to enjoy shops and eateries. Second, it would draw in new customers to The District. That means more profits for the merchants, which leads to more sales tax collections for the city, which means we can pay for fire, police, garbage collection and fixing our roads. If successful, maybe another route on Cherry Street and more operating hours for the entire bus system.
Oh yes, for convenience, sell an EZ Park Pass at local merchants and the groceries.
Will I support the increased parking rates? At this time the answer is “Yes” if the paybacks are also seriously considered. The vote on the parking meter increases will happen at the June 20 council meeting. That is the time to voice your opinion.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.