The Downtown Design Review Committee reviewed preliminary plans for the city's Wright Street Parking Deck for the first time today and generally voiced approval of the direction the city has taken for the deck.
The deck will provide up to 350 public parking spaces, depending on the inclusion of certain elements like spaces with plugs for charging electric vehicles.
The only entrance and exit to the deck will be located on the first floor off Wright Street, as will the entrance to the Baptist Student Center, which was temporarily relocated to the old Tiger Rags building on South Gay Street after the city purchased the property from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions in late 2017.
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 to arise out of the now-abandoned Southern Living Hotel project for the adjacent property to the current delay of waiting on a no-build easement with Regions Bank to the north of the planned deck.
Assistant City Manager Megan Crouch said the city is expecting to get the easement from Regions "fairly soon." Michael Starr, with the architectural firm 2WR + Partners out of Columbus, said the firm has produced multiple iterations of the deck since it began working on the design in late 2017. He added that work on the design is progressing under the assumption that the city will obtain the easement from Regions.
The no-build easement to the north would allow the city to build a deck with an open design on all four sides, with tall, vertical slats providing openings that break up the mass of the facades. If the city doesn't get the easement, the north facade would be a solid wall because it would have to comply with the International Building Code.
Plans show the 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 City Council approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance in April 2018 that raised the maximum height allowed in the College Edge Overlay District, where the deck will be located, from 65 to 75 feet.
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.
Design Review Committee members Dan Bennett and Anna Solomon made a few suggestions to Starr with the aim to improve the aesthetics of the design. Shown two possible early iterations of the lower level of the west facade facing Wright Street, Bennett said he preferred the one that showed a canopy above the entrance to the Baptist Student Center, adding that he would like to see it as deep as possible because of the sun striking it from the west.
Solomon stressed how strongly she felt about the finishing details, and that she wanted the southeast corner of the deck to be treated similarly to the southwest corner. Early renderings from both perspectives are attached to this article, and the design is subject to change as the process continues.
"I think it is a good start," said Bennett.
The city would like to start construction in late fall, said Crouch.