Mayor recommends location for replacement parking deck

Staff photo

A discussion about where to build a new parking deck to replace the Walton Arts Center parking lot will happen a little earlier than expected.

City Council members are set to take up the issue at the next council meeting on Dec. 17.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan said due to the recent long council meetings, he’d wanted to wait until January to bring forward his recommendation on where to build the deck, but Council Member Kyle Smith walked on a related item to the upcoming agenda on Dec. 17, and because of that, Jordan said it only made sense to go ahead and start the discussion now.

Why build a deck?

The Cultural Arts Corridor project calls for removal of the parking lot at West Avenue and Dickson Street across from the Walton Arts Center. The area will instead be redeveloped into a civic plaza space with a lawn, water canal, terrace, pathways, garden and room for an event stage and public art.

The project was part of a $226 million bond issue approved by voters in April.

Mayor Jordan promised voters before the election he would replace the 298 parking spaces that would be lost with a new parking deck somewhere in the Dickson Street area.

Garver Engineers provided a study (view PDF) that explored five potential sites for the deck, and city officials eventually narrowed it down to three locations.

Those finalists were:

  1. The privately-owned parking lot at the northwest corner of Dickson and West Avenue that’s home to businesses like Bank of Fayetteville’s train bank and Arsaga’s at the Depot (Depot Lot)
  2. The city-owned parking lot next to Kingfish on School Avenue (East Lot)
  3. The property currently home to Nadine Baum Studios across from TheatreSquared

City staff have since removed the Nadine Baum option from the list after City Attorney Kit Williams said there’s no way the site could be used for a new deck without replacing the existing building, which staff have estimated would cost about $8 million. With voters only approving a total of $10 million for the deck, the location simply isn’t feasible, Williams said.

The city and University of Arkansas jointly own the property and building, and Williams said both parties would have to agree to redevelop the site. He said Mayor Jordan has discussed the idea with the university’s chancellor several times, who “unequivocally” rejected any use of the property for a city parking deck.

“It is simply beyond the city’s power to locate a parking deck or do anything on this property with the university’s agreement, which has been repeatedly rejected,” wrote Williams in a staff memo.

Still, Smith’s resolution asks that all three sites be considered. Smith said he’s aware that the Nadine Baum site is not recommended, but he would like a public discussion of the matter.

“I understand (the Nadine Baum lot) has got challenges, but I think it would be helpful for the public to see those outlined if it ends up not being the way we go, and for everybody to know that we gave it full consideration,” Smith told the council at last week’s agenda-setting session.

Mayor’s Recommendation

Jordan is recommending a deck at the Depot Lot, which currently has multiple uses, including 170 reserved and paid surface parking spaces and several buildings and businesses such as the historic Fayetteville Train Depot occupied by Chipotle, the Freight Building occupied by the Arsaga’s Depot, and the Train Bank occupied by the Bank of Fayetteville. It is bounded by the Razorback Greenway and Arkansas-Missouri Railroad on the west, the Lafayette Street bridge and private property to the north, West Avenue on the east and Dickson Street on the south.

The 2.4-acre Depot Lot is comprised of three parcels with 1.6 acres owned by Greg House’s Fayetteville Depot, LLC and 0.8 acres owned by the Bank of Fayetteville. Both entities have agreed to the sell portions of their property to the city for a combined $350,000 plus a land swap for approximately 0.2 acres on the north end of the planned civic plaza across Dickson Street.

Cultural Arts Corridor civic plaza preliminary rendering (enlarge)

Staff said the deck would be built on a footprint that uses 60 existing parking spaces, which would require a 350-space deck to replace the total parking loss. All existing buildings would remain intact.

Planners said staging and construction of the deck would impact the adjacent businesses, but said the work could be completed with “limited disturbance.” The large asphalt parking area north of the proposed deck would serve as the staging and laydown space for materials used in the construction of the deck.

Perks of building on the Depot Lot include a direct line of sight and access to the Walton Art Center’s main entrance at West Avenue and Dickson Street, but staff said the biggest advantage of the Depot Lot is that it would have the highest redevelopment potential after a deck is built. Multi-story, mixed-use structures, staff said, could be built that could screen the parking deck from the street and provide commercial and residential density with a significant potential for property and sales tax revenue generation.

Additional development on the East Lot, staff said, would be much more limited. Liner buildings would have to be smaller, which would lower private development appeal and potential tax revenue.

The estimated cost to build a deck on the Depot Lot is $9.9 million, which includes the proposed land acquisition fees. Building on the East Lot would also be about $9.9 million, staff said.

Discussions with House and the bank have resulted in both entities providing letters of intent to the sell their land, as well as compliance with a list of city requirements.

For starters, design and use restrictions would apply to two three-story buildings that would be built and owned by House – one along West Avenue and another across Dickson Street at the north end of the planned civic space. Both buildings would have to be LEED-certified, and the building along Dickson must be completed before the civic space is open.

Depot Lot preliminary deck design (enlarge)

There would be two access points for the deck, including one at West Avenue and Watson Street. A 0.2-acre access easement would have to be provided for a second parking deck exit further north onto West Avenue near Lafayette Street. A temporary 0.2-acre construction easement must be provided to allow for staging and access to the deck during construction.

Finally, House has agreed to protect and preserve access to the Freight Building currently occupied by Arsaga’s during construction.

Arsaga’s owner Cary Arsaga told the Flyer in October he was worried about the future of his restaurant if the deck were to be built in the Depot Lot.

“I feel like it could destroy my business if it was hidden behind a parking deck,” he said. “And I wouldn’t want to be trying to operate there during construction.”

Council members Mark Kinion and Teresa Turk said they hope Tuesday’s discussion could be extended into the new year.

Kinion said it’s a workload issue, and there’s already a lot of unfinished business to attend to without bringing another complex discussion onto the table.

Turk agreed, but said there’s another reason to hold off on the deck decision.

“I think the perception is that we may be trying to slide this parking issue in before the public gets aware of it,” said Turk. “There’s a lot of strong opinions out there about this.”

Smith agreed, and said the only motion he’d consider on Tuesday is to table both resolutions, and that his goal is simply to get the discussion started.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the council chambers in room 219 at City Hall.