Council approves initial proposal for replacement parking deck

Depot Lot / Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

A decision on where the City Council would like to build a new parking deck is now in place after weeks of public debate.

Council members on Tuesday voted 5-3 to approve a resolution of intent to pursue the purchase of 0.6 acres of property to build a new parking deck on what’s known as the Depot Lot, a privately-owned parking lot at the northwest corner of Dickson Street and West Avenue that serves several businesses including Arsaga’s at the Depot. The proposal would leave the Arsaga’s building untouched, along with the other historic structures on the west side of the lot.

The city will now move forward with contract negotiations, and bring a finalized proposal back to the council in about a month.

It was the third meeting in a row that the council discussed the proposal, which was first introduced in mid-December (see Dec. 18 story or Jan. 9 story). Like the two previous discussions, Tuesday’s meeting also went past midnight.

The upcoming Cultural Arts Corridor project includes redeveloping the existing parking lot at West Avenue and Dickson Street across from the Walton Arts Center into a civic plaza, so the question was where to build replacement parking for the 298 parking spaces that will be lost. Voters last April approved a bond measure that included $10 million for a new parking deck, and stipulated that construction on the civic plaza could not begin until a new deck is built and ready for use.

The Depot Lot was one of three locations up for consideration for the deck, along with the city-owned East 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.

The Nadine Baum site was removed from consideration after city staff said a deck on the property, which is jointly owned by the city and University of Arkansas, wasn’t financially feasible. The city would have to replace the building, staff said, which could potentially double the price of the project. Officials with the university also said they had no interest in moving the building.

Tuesday’s discussion was focused on whether to entertain a letter of intent from Greg House’s Fayetteville Depot, LLC and the Bank of Fayetteville to sell the city a portion of the Depot Lot. 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.

Conceptual parking deck project layout on the Depot Lot / City of Fayetteville

City staff said they prefer the Depot Lot because it has the highest potential for adding mixed-use structures that could bring in property and sales tax revenues. The East Lot, they said, is too small for much more than just a deck.

A conceptual drawing of the project shows a 400-space parking deck, a 9,600-square-foot liner building, and a 100-room hotel with a bank on the Depot Lot. All of the buildings on the west side of the lot would be preserved.

City Attorney Kit Williams said he didn’t particularly like the initial proposal, but was confident that his 40 years of experience in negotiating could help lead to a contract that was good for the city.

Arsaga’s owner Cary Arsaga spoke at all three meetings, and said he was worried about a parking deck blocking the view of his restaurant from the street, and was especially concerned about customers having access to his business during construction of the deck.

He said Tuesday that he’d reached an agreement with House on how to proceed if the council chose the Depot Lot for replacement parking. The deal could include compensation during deck construction, and would allow the restaurant to close if necessary and reopen after construction.

Bordinos owner and Dickson Street Merchants Association president Joe Fennel spoke in favor of the Depot Lot, citing economic opportunities, proximity to the Walton Arts Center, and the opportunity the site presented for future additional parking as reasons he favors the location. He said the only drawback he’d had was his concern for the Arsagas, but said it sounds like those concerns have been worked out.

Council members Sonia Gutierrez, Mark Kinion and Teresa Turk voted against the proposal. Gutierrez and Kinion said they thought the city-owned East Lot was a simpler option and presented a possibly more fiscally responsible choice. Turk said she’d received more input from residents who were against the Depot Lot.

Most council members who voted in favor said they hoped Williams could clear up a few issues they had with the letter of intent. For example, most said they weren’t fully on board with the initial language referring to the land swap. Others said they’d like to see space included for a future transit hub, which was an idea first included in a concept drawing presented earlier this month.

Several council members also indicated they would be OK with proceeding to build the deck on the East Lot as a fallback should final contract negotiations on the Depot Lot not come together.

The discussion was briefly interrupted by protestors who entered the council chambers holding a banner that read “Fayetteville deports artists of color.”

The protesters were calling for an end to the federal 287(g) program which places a hold on inmates by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their actions were in response to a local man who was recently arrested in connection with spray painting infrastructure at Gordon Long Park. The man last week was being held under ICE jurisdiction before being sent to an immigration detention center.

The council meeting went into recess, and the protestors were eventually escorted out by Fayetteville police. The meeting resumed about 15 minutes later.

Construction of the deck is scheduled to begin this fall.