Commissioners vote for parking garage, but with conditions

November 25, 2003|HERB BROCK

The showdown Monday over plans for a downtown parking garage produced mixed emotions over mixed motions, and it left pro-garage forces alternately groaning, applauding and scratching their heads - and wondering:

After years of moving at a steady pace down the road toward a garage, did Danville City Commission, by its two actions taken during a meeting that lasted nearly three hours, stay on course or shift gears? Did it pass motions that sound like the city is still moving forward or did it actually slam on the brakes or shift into idle or even reverse? Did motions take the city in different directions?

Did D-Day turn into What Did They Do Day?

"At least some progress will be maintained," said Commissioner Terry Crowley.

"I'm happy things have been put somewhat on hold on this project. There are too many ifs," said longtime downtown businessman Art Chinn.

Centre College President John Roush saw things a couple of ways, calling one of the motions enacted by the commission "convoluted with the best of intentions," but adding that he was "encouraged that it at least keeps things afloat."


And the standing-room-only, largely in favor of a commitment to the garage crowd of more than 100, reacted with barely-muffled groans at the passage of one motion and loud applause at the passage of the other. They were carrying paper "Vote Yes" signs, but they reacted after it was all over with a "maybe."

At issue before the commission was a request by the Third Street Development Corp. that the city make a commitment to issue bonds for a parking garage, to be built on the old Hub-Gilcher parking lot, contingent on the city receiving a $1.75 million grant that is in the federal budget that has been passed by Congress but is awaiting President Bush's signature.

The TSDC said the action was necessary because a prospective tenant said it would discontinue negotiations over 19,000 square feet of the 80,000-square-foot Hub-Gilcher building on Nov. 30 if the city did not make a commitment to issue bonds on the project.

The unidentified tenant has said it needs 76 parking spaces. The TSDC has said it has conducted talks with more than a dozen prospective tenants for the more than 106,000 square feet of vacant downtown commercial property; for that amount of space, the TSDC has said more than 430 parking spaces are needed.

Depending on if the facility is 251 spaces or 294 spaces, it would cost $4.413 million or $4.945 million to build. The Heart of Danville has obtained $1 million in Renaissance grants for the project; if the city gets the $1.75 million federal grant, that would leave a difference of either $1.663 or $2.195 million to be covered by the bonds.

Two motions are passed

In response to the TSDC's request, the commission passed two motions, between and among several comments from commission members and audience members.

* A motion by Mayor John W.D. Bowling to direct the city staff to proceed with the bond issue; require the TSDC to "subsidize" any shortfalls occurring in the operation of the garage; require tenants now negotiating for space in the old Hub-Gilcher building to sign a "letter of commitment" that they will lease the space; and give the city "right of first refusal" to purchase the Hub-Gilcher building. Voting for the motion were Bowling and commissioners Chester Kavanaugh, Ryan Owens and Crowley; voting against it was Jamey Gay.

* A motion by Gay to authorize Bravura, the firm the city hired to design the garage, to complete construction plans and authorize Hilliard and Lyons, a Danville financial services firm, to develop a bond issue. Voting for the motion were Gay, Crowley and Bowling; voting against it were Kavanaugh and Owens.

In response to the first motion, Hamner said the TSDC board will "try to find the money" to "subsidize" the shortfalls. According to a study done by Bravura, there would be a net operating deficit the first year of more than $60,000, based on an occupancy rate of 67 percent. At the end of 10 years, there would be a net operating profit of more than $100,000, based on an occupancy rate of 98 percent, the study says.

Regarding the condition that TSDC obtain letters of commitment from potential tenants, Hamner said the organization will "continue negotiations and make (potential tenants) aware of the condition."

Both Crowley and Gay attempted to get Bowling to remove the two conditions in his motion pertaining to the TSDC, but the mayor declined. Crowley said after the meeting that the reason he voted for Bowling's motion was because "some progress is better than no progress."

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