COLUMBIA — The surprise question looming about the new Short Street garage is whether there will be any public parking spaces left by the time it is built next year.
“It’s a good problem to have, to have it all sold out before you build it,” Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said.
In addition to deciding what Columbia’s fifth downtown parking garage will look like, City Council members now are considering whether to build commercial space into the ground floor of the structure and to add an extra level of parking to accommodate advance demand for leased spaces.
The current four-story design provides for 340 spaces, and already 150 of them could be spoken for. Adding another level would add about 70 more spaces and cost about $1 million more.
The new DoubleTree hotel, which Dave Parmley of Broadway Lodging LLC plans to build where the Regency Inn is now, wants 100 spaces. Add to that 50 spaces already requested by the nearby Boone County Family Resources, which has put in a related bid to buy about 4,000 square feet within the garage as new office space.
There also could be more demand from a proposed mixed-use, multi-story structure adjacent to the garage. Pending city approval, this proposal from North Light LLC would include retail space, apartments and lofts or condos. North Light partner Nick Peckham is also founding partner of Peckham & Wright Architects, the consulting architectural firm on the Short Street garage.
There is also a 300-bed apartment complex being built at College Avenue and Walnut Street. Although the complex will have its own parking, it is likely to need additional parking space offsite, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.
“Also you have to include some public, metered parking spaces,” St. Romaine said. He estimates those could number 50 to 75.
Russ Palmer, a sales adviser at Downtown Appliance Home Center on Broadway Avenue near the future garage site, said he likes the idea of having a garage on that end of Broadway and hopes there’s room for public parking.
“Maybe employees won’t use street parking so much, and they’ll leave space for customers to park,” he said.
The council is reviewing three variations on one design for the new garage as seen in artist renderings by Walker Parking Consultants. All three call for keeping Short Street as a throughway.
Option C-1 features a “living wall” of greenery growing up vertical panels of wire mesh installed at intervals in the exterior walls. Option C-2 incorporates smaller panels of greenery, and Option C-3 shows the garage blanketed with greenery covering almost all of at least three walls.
The differences among them are solely aesthetic, St. Romaine said.
Council members unanimously favored Option C-1 at an Aug. 31 work session. Kesphol said C-3 was a nonstarter for every member, but the council is keeping the three options on the table for now to allow time for feedback. The next garage work session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 26.
But choosing the design is hardly where the council's job stops. First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said engineers have advised that it is easier and less costly to build an extra level into a major structure from the start, rather than add it later.
St. Romaine confirmed that the city has promised Parmley, of Broadway Lodging LLC, that it will not build a garage taller than the proposed DoubleTree hotel. This caps the Short Street Garage at six stories. Current garage designs provide four levels of parking; St. Romaine said the city is not considering adding more than one level.
“The major predicament in building even higher is budget,” St. Romaine said.
“When we originally presented this to council, we presented a budget of $9 million,” he said. “We have already spent $1.25 million to acquire the land, and the construction budget is $7 million. The balance of that is for the cost of bonding. So the construction budget ... is the limiting factor of how big the garage can be at this time.”
And here, Schmidt said, is where the real decisions are made by City Council.
“At the council level, we’re really supposed to set policy and not get into the micromanaging,” Schmidt said. “It’s easy to devolve into the conversation of what looks pretty and so forth, but it’s best to leave that to the engineers and architects.”
Schmidt described the city as being on a cusp where the question is what’s most prudent in difficult economic times. On the one hand, he said, the city could be prudent by spending as little as possible. On the other hand, the city could take a risk because being too cautious might do more harm than good.
“It’s a fascinating choice, and that’s the real policy decision,” he said.
"If you’re going to all the trouble to build a garage, you might as well build it as big as reasonable, especially in this case where it looks like there’s quite a bit of interest in the area and in parking,” Schmidt said.
As that demand grows, the price of the leased spaces might also grow. The garage is projected to lease at roughly $60 per month per space.
“I think, in time, we might need to raise the lease rates,” Kesphol said.