The process of building a new municipal parking deck on Wright Street is in a holding pattern as the city of Auburn waits to hear back on a needed easement before finalizing design plans.
The city is waiting to hear back from Regions Bank about the easement, which would provide a buffer between the deck and potential future construction on the Regions Bank property and allow the city to construct a deck with a more open architectural design.
"My understanding is that we’ve gotten nothing negative from them," said City Manager Jim Buston of negotiations with Regions Bank. "I think they are in agreement; it’s just going through their board and their property group to finally come up with a document.
"We’re still working to get that easement so that the architects can finalize that part of the parking deck. They have come up with a design. I’m not too thrilled with it, but I don’t have that eye for aesthetics."
If the city failed to get an easement, the parking deck wall facing north would be solid brick.
"By code it has to be solid, which in our code means solid brick, which is kind of expensive, too," said Buston. "And the big thing is it looks bad; it just doesn’t look good."
The process of building a new municipal parking deck, which began late in the spring of 2017, has been delayed multiple times over the past two years — first as the city waited on a potential larger deck arising out of the now-abandoned Southern Living Hotel project for the adjacent property to the current delay of waiting on an easement.
Chris Godbold, the owner of the adjacent property where Quixotes is located, told The Villager recently that he has been approached by groups interested in building a hotel at the site. Buston said the city would not wait any longer, though, on a potential project next door.
"That ship has sailed," said Buston. "We have to build our parking deck. And we’ve told Chris that whatever you do with your property is fine, but you have to do it with your property, and if you need parking you’ll have to build your parking. We can’t wait any longer.
"If it was just a parking deck, we could. But it’s not just a parking deck; it’s the space for the Baptists, which we are already way behind (on building), and we promised them we would get them back in there. And they were good to let us pursue that other hotel project knowing that it would lengthen their stay where they are. Now, it’s time for us to build the deck and move forward."
Also complicating issues is the potential displacement of the Baptist Student Center's temporary location on the old Tiger Rags property on South Gay Street, which was recently purchased by a developer. Buston said the city is working on alternatives should the Baptist Student Center be required to relocate before the parking deck is completed.
After the Southern Living hotel project fell apart in February, the city reverted to its original plan — a roughly 350-space public parking deck facing Wright Street, with the new Baptist Student Center, which would have 15 dedicated parking spaces, on the first floor. The city's remaining property fronting North College Street, which would not be used for the parking deck, would remain greenspace.
"It will just be an open area there, anticipating at some point that it will probably be used for retail," said Buston, who added that there will be a pedestrian walkway connecting the deck to College Street.
Buston also added he would like the project to go out to bid in August, although it could be delayed until October.
The parking deck was one part of the city's plan to address a lack of parking options downtown. Other measures included increasing the hourly rate for parking to $1, placing a two-hour parking limit from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and building a temporary downtown employee parking lot on AuburnBank property off Magnolia Avenue.
That the municipal parking deck component has been delayed so long is frustrating, Buston said.
"The plan for more parking downtown, this is a very important part of that plan," he said. "Once there is a parking deck, that will help that nighttime availability of parking."