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Council rejects downtown Bristol parking structure bid for now

February 11, 2013

BY DAVID MCGEE | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER |Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:29 pm | Updated: 9:00 am, Wed Feb 13, 2013.

BRISTOL, Va. –– Any consideration of a downtown parking garage will occur sometime in the future, city leaders said Tuesday.

The Bristol Virginia City Council unanimously rejected a request from Structured Parking Solutions of Pensacola, Fla., which had asked to be the exclusive firm to create and submit plans for a parking structure. Company representatives spent about two hours in January making their pitch to develop a substantial parking structure and begin charging for downtown parking spots.

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The idea was being considered because work has begun on the Birthplace of Country Music's museum and there have been rumblings that a developer might convert the former Executive Plaza as a boutique hotel. Both projects could push the need for more parking downtown.

"This may not be the time," Councilman Don Ashley said of the parking structure proposal. "We've had a few events that have happened that have freed up parking, such as U.S. Solutions, which is now located in Tennessee. The heritage [music] museum is a year or two away. If something else develops on that block then we would need parking. The study we have says parking is adequate today. We do hope we'll have a need for parking in the future but the urgency to do it doesn't seem the same."

Ashley also suggested that the city could benefit by seeking proposals from other firms.

"Six months or a year from now we may want to go out for an RFP [request for proposals]. That doesn't mean we wouldn't want to entertain Parking Solutions; their presentation was excellent," Ashley said. "With this situation, I see waiting to make sure that we do have a parking situation and the heritage center and other properties need parking a year or two from now. We think they would but we don't know that for sure."

Mayor Jim Steele expressed concern about paying for the facility, which could carry a multi-million price tag. The company was expected to offer to fund the construction and then recoup its investment from user fees.

"I think we need to come up with some way to pay for it without burdening the taxpayers and – if it was built – it would have to be self-supporting," Steele said. "In my opinion, we should revisit this in six to 12 months."

Vice Mayor Guy Odum said he had issues with the plan.

"I was concerned about the pay-for-park on downtown streets. That was not a favorite of mine. We tried that years ago and it didn't work. I don't think the merchants would be in favor of that," Odum said. "It's a concern of mine that citizens not incur any cost with a parking garage. ... If we do go with Parking Solutions, we need to tweak it to fit us."

Councilman Ed Harlow also referred to the city's most recent study concluding that there was no immediate need for a parking garage.

"We paid a lot of money for a parking study that had things we need to implement. We have done some but not all the things they recommend. My suggestion is we implement those changes and better manage the parking we have right now," Harlow said.

A thorough review of how current parking is being used, existing leases and installing directional signage should all be done before the council revisits the parking garage issue, Harlow said.

"We're not scrapping what Parking Solutions brought to the table. They put a lot of effort and time into it," Harlow said.

As part of her motion against proceeding with the project, Councilwoman Catherine Brillhart said the council should revisit the issue within the next year.

Also Tuesday, the council took no action on an ordinance that would permit naming two assistant city managers instead of just one. Instead, they agreed with a Harlow request to schedule a meeting just to discuss duties and compensation for the positions.


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