Parking Utility Could Be Driving Into Red
COLUMBIA - City officials Wednesday defended the costs of utlities for the new Walnut Street parking garage, saying growth in paid permits will evenutally more than cover the costs. The new parking garage had an electric bill in March that totaled more than $3,000. With 18 parking permits generating about $2700 for the month, the garage ran in a deficit just for power.
But Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine is staying optimistic, saying, "When you build a garage, you don't expect to be full on the first day it is open. We built the garage for the expectation of the future growth in the community."
Mayor Bob McDavid tabled the issue of possible parking rate increases at Monday's city council meeting. Just last month, parking fines were doubled from $5 to $10 in order to encourage drivers to stop parking downtown on streets all day, and move cars into the garages. The proposed ordinance would have increased the rate for one hour of parking downtown from 30 cents per hour to 60 cents per hour. This, along with increases in parking fines, was meant to help generate revenue for the struggling garage. Local business owners asked for more time to gather information and make a decision on the increase, according to St. Romaine.
Parking is a continuing issue in Columbia; renovation plans for the Regency Hotel have spurred talks of a garage at Short Street. That garage is more than two years away from approval and construction, but according to St. Romaine, the proposed 300-car structure has already garnered 200 reservation confirmations from local businesses and the hotel. McDavid wanted to find more information on this garage and see its possible effect on generating revenue. However, if the garage is approved, funding for the project would drive Columbia's parking utility into the red due to the lack of revenue at Fifth and Walnut.
At the current pace of permit applications, the garage at Fifth and Walnut will be less than half full a year from now.