Open house draws crowd wanting to hear about parking garage

November 18, 2003|HERB BROCK

The room was decorated with brightly-colored balloons and filled with an atmosphere of urgency and a big crowd that was pumped. One of the speakers captured the tone of the event when she declared it was "crunch time."

The scene and the sound in the first floor of the old Hub-Gilcher building Monday evening may have resembled a pep rally for one of the two local high school powerhouses as they prepare for the next round of the state playoffs this weekend, but paydirt for this crowd is a parking garage.

The event was sponsored by the Third Street Development Corporation to rally public support for the case it and the Heart of Danville are making to press Danville City Commission to make a commitment to issue bonds as soon as possible for a downtown parking garage. It was attended by more than 150 people, including local leaders of business and industry, doctors and lawyers, Centre College's president and at least two faculty members, and scores of interested and generally supportive Danville residents.


Janet Hamner of the Third Street Development Corporation underscored the urgency of the event by saying that her organization has lined up a client who is interested in leasing 19,000 of the old building's 80,000 square feet but has said it needs 76 parking spaces.

Hamner said the prospective tenant - one of 15 or so that have expressed interest in leasing parts of the Hub-Gilcher building but are concerned about lack of parking - will discontinue negotiations on Nov. 30 if the city has not made a commitment to issue bonds for the project.

A 294-space garage would cost an estimated $4.945 million, while a 251-space facility would cost $4.413 million. The Heart of Danville has obtained $1 million in Renaissance Kentucky grants for the project; and the city has won approval from Congress for a $1.75 million grant that is in the federal budget awaiting President Bush's signature. The rest of the money would come from nearly $2.2 million in bonds that would be sold by the city.

Mayor John W.D. Bowling has said he wants the city to wait on its commitment until Bush signs the budget and the city actually receives the grant. The Heart of Danville wants the commission to commit to a bond issuance contingent on the city receiving the grant in the future.

The cost figures are contained in a study of the project done by Bravura Corporation for the city. The same study indicates that garage would be in the black within four years.

Based on an occupancy rate of 67 percent in the first year, the net income from fees paid by downtown employers and employees who would use the facility would be $101,675 and the debt service on the bonds would be $163,200 for a deficit of more than $60,000; based on an occupancy rate of 98 percent in the tenth year, the net income would be $283,511 and the debt service would remain $163,200 for a net gain of over $100,000.

"Including the Hub-Gilcher building, we have a total of 106,000 square feet of vacant commercial property in downtown Danville, and we need 344 parking spaces," said Julie Wagner of the Heart of Danville. "With the prospective tenant for space in this building and other prospects, we need to move on the bond issue."

Hamner also urged the city to proceed immediately with the bond-grant contingency plan she and Wagner are urging.

"My heart's up here," said Hamner, holding her hand next to her throat. "So many people have worked so hard (on the parking garage project), and now we have an opportunity to start to filling this building with tenants.

"It's crunch time."

Nancy Alcock, a longtime community leader in Danville, said she recently changed her mind about the project and now agrees with the Heart of Danville's "if you build it, they will come" tact.

"At first I thought we should wait on the project until we get occupants to use it," she said. "But now I'm convinced that occupants will not come until there is a garage, so I believe we should proceed.

"I'd rather see money spent on this project and other efforts to bring new life to the downtown than see our commercial enterprises spread out all over the place," said Alcock, drawing strong applause.

While all speakers were supportive of the project, some had questions about the kind of tenants that are being sought or being recruited to occupy downtown space and, therefore, use the garage.

Ken Keffer, a Centre professor of French offered a "big bravo" for news that a tenant is close to signing a lease, but he asked what kind of business the tenant is in. Hamner declined to reveal that information.

Keffer then suggested that a focus should be made on luring a grocery store downtown, noting that with the departure of Save-A-Lot on Main Street to the former location of Piggly Wiggly on Lexington Road, downtown residents no longer have a grocery store.

Hamner vowed that would be a major goal of the corporation.

"After we get the parking garage project under way, our next big push will be for a downtown grocery store," she said.

"There many, many people, a lot of them elderly and some without transportation, who soon no longer will have a store within walking distance."

George M. McClure III, a local attorney, also wanted to know more about the prospective tenant.

"I don't want to sound negative, but I'm concerned about bringing to town a pig in a poke," said McClure. "What if it's a porno shop or something like that."

Jeff Thornton, a local banker involved with the corporation, assured McClure that the potential tenant is "definitely not that."

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