Discussion about new parking deck goes past midnight, no decision made

Cultural Arts Corridor civic plaza conceptual design rendering (enlarge)

A discussion on where to build a replacement parking deck went past midnight during the final City Council meeting of the year that began at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday inside City Hall. No decision was made.

The Cultural Arts Corridor project includes redeveloping the parking lot at West Avenue and Dickson Street across from the Walton Arts Center into a civic plaza, so the question is where to build replacement parking for the 298 parking spaces that will be lost.

The possible locations include the Depot Lot, which is a privately-owned parking lot at the northwest corner of Dickson and West Avenue that serves several businesses including Arsaga’s at the Depot; the East Lot, which is the city-owned parking lot next to Kingfish on School Avenue; and the site currently home to Nadine Baum Studios across from TheatreSquared at the corner of Spring Street and West Avenue.

City staff said the Nadine Baum site, which is jointly owned by the city and University of Arkansas, won’t work unless the city replaces the building somewhere nearby. The cost of replacement, staff said, could potentially double the price of the project, making it unfeasible.

Staff said they prefer the Depot Lot over the East Lot because it would have the highest redevelopment potential after a deck is built. Multi-story, mixed-use structures, they said, could include commercial and residential spaces that could bring in significant property and sales tax revenues. The East Lot, they said, is too small for much more than just a deck.

Depot Lot preliminary deck design (enlarge)

Mayor Jordan’s staff have negotiated an agreement to purchase a portion of the Depot Lot from Greg House’s Fayetteville Depot, LLC and the Bank of Fayetteville. The purchase would also include a land swap that would give House 0.2 acres to build a three-story, mixed-use building on the north end of the planned civic plaza across Dickson Street.

Several residents who spoke Tuesday night said a parking deck on the Depot Lot would block the view of Arsaga’s restaurant and potentially damage the business. They argued that the project appears to be manufacturing culture by sacrificing the city’s existing organic culture that emanates from Arsaga’s.

Others who spoke said they don’t believe it’s a foregone conclusion that the Nadine Baum site is off the table.

Several members of the Fayetteville Housing Authority in December asked the council allowing the FHA to partner in the development of residential and commercial space in liner buildings if a deck were built on the Nadine Baum site. A partnership with a non-profit like the FHA, they said, could bring low-cost capital and allow for the construction of mixed-income housing units.

Jordan asked how the FHA could help overcome the estimated high cost of replacing the Nadine Baum campus, and where it would be built. Board members said they didn’t have all the answers, but meetings with the city, university and FHA could be the first step in coming up with a solution. That collaborative conversation, they said, has not happened.

Barbara Putman, executive director of the Community Creative Center at Nadine Baum Studios, said her organization could suffer if the Nadine Baum site was chosen. She said the arts center, which offers year-round art events, art camps, professional development and in-school residencies, is already a perfect fit for the area. Removing a thriving arts center and theater space from the Cultural Arts Corridor to make room for a parking deck just doesn’t make sense, she said.

By midnight, some council members seemed out of energy. It was the fifth time since October that a City Council meeting has gone past 11 p.m.

Council member Smith said he never intended to make a decision this soon, and only wanted to get the discussion started in a more public manner.

The council agreed to table the discussion until the next meeting on Jan. 7.

To read more about the mayor’s recommended plan, see our story from Dec. 16. To read more notes from Tuesday’s City Council meeting, see our recap post.