The beginning of the end of a process that began more than two years ago appears to be in sight, as the City of Auburn is expected to send out a request for bids in the coming weeks for the long-awaited second municipal parking deck downtown.
Bids for the deck are expected to be requested by the city before the end of the month and possibly as early as two weeks from now, said City Manager Jim Buston, who added that he expects bids would come back by the end of January or early February with construction starting at some point thereafter and lasting nine months to a year, although the time line is difficult to pin down.
"These days, it’s really hard to tell," Buston said.
The planned parking deck would hold between 300 to 350 public parking spaces and be located on a parcel that spans from North College Street to Wright Street.
The city purchased that property, located at 135 N. College St., from the Alabama Baptist State Convention in December 2017 for $2.33 million. The property previously served as the home for the Baptist Student Center, which was relocated to the now-demolished Tiger Rags building on South Gay Street before moving again to a facility on the Auburn United Methodist Church property.
The $2.33 million purchase price included $1.1 million that was placed in an escrow account for the construction of a new ministries facility in the parking deck and $100,000 that went to First Baptist Church of Auburn for the release of its right of first refusal for the sale of the property.
The new Baptist Student Center facility will be built into the bottom floor of the planned parking deck facing Wright Street.
"(They are) more patient than I probably would be in their situation because they really are anxious to return over there, and we’re a year behind when we told them they would return," said Buston.
The parking deck project was put on hold for about a year as the city worked to make a deal with a developer who wanted to bring a Southern Living hotel project downtown, which would have allowed the city to build a larger capacity parking deck.
That project ultimately fell through earlier this year, at which point the city directed architects to focus on a deck with a smaller footprint.
"We’re hoping that will help a lot with the downtown parking," said Buston, who added that the city expects to lose the downtown employee parking lot on the AuburnBank property off Magonlia Avenue at some point.
"Well, AuburnBank is redoing their property, so at some point we’re going to lose that parking. My hope was that we were going to have the deck in place before we lost that parking, but that’s probably not going to be the case," Buston said. "In the short term, we’ll be tight on parking again until we can get the deck done, until some of these other projects downtown are finished, like I understand there will be a parking deck associated with the new AuburnBank building.
"What I had hoped is that we would bring our parking deck online and parking would be solved. I think we’ll bring our parking deck online and we’ll still be working with some of these other projects. ... In the long term, though, I think we will have parking pretty well under control."
The parking deck design went before the Downtown Design Review Committee in July. It is expected to come before the committee a second time at some point.
Plans show that the deck will be about 71 feet tall, about 75 feet tall at the parapet and about 85 feet tall to the stair enclosure. Parapets and stair enclosures are not considered part of structure height, and are given additional height allowances per the city zoning ordinance.
The deck will be set back far from North College Street, with the area in between serving as a pedestrian plaza, which could be temporary if a redevelopment opportunity arises along the North College frontage.