Tag Archives: Parking Garage

Why I’m Starting to Warm Up to Mayor McDavid

During the campaign that both authorized downtown “safety” cameras and elected the three Chamber of Commerce amigos, Kespohl, Dudley and McDavid, I will admit that Bob McDavid was not my pick for mayor. The main reason for my dislike of McDavid was the fact that he supported Karen Taylor’s campaign to place the so-called “safety” cameras downtown. While McDavid only said there was a “perceived” crime problem and never claimed that Columbia was as crime ridden as the other two amigos and Ms. Taylor would have had us believe (in spite of an overwhelming pile of evidence to the contrary), he never missed the opportunity to place himself next to Taylor and her Keep Columbia Safe group. His support of our local scapegrace of surveillance now appears to have been more of a shrewd political maneuver than a heartfelt belief that Big Brother style surveillance was needed in Downtown Columbia.

But lately, McDavid has come down on the side of common sense in regard to local issues. While it really doesn’t make up for the $50,000 spent on a year of cameras, his turn to common sense leadership is nonetheless refreshing.

His open criticism of the behemoth 5th and Walnut garage is one step in the right direction for McDavid. In a KOMU 8 story on the subject McDavid said.

I personally think the 5th and Walnut parking garage was overbuilt… I believe that the process was flawed. We committed $16 million to a garage that is going to lose money for some time.

Bob has even taken a sensible stance on the public art displayed on the garage and elsewhere around town. Columbia sets aside 1% from each new construction project to pay for art associated with the project. In each case, for some unknown reason, instead of relying on a local artist, Columbia has looked elsewhere for the talent to design these large projects and has ended up with some real eyesores. Chief among these eyesores, in my opinion, is the $200,000 “Keys to the City” sculpture which adorns the entrance to city hall and looks more like a cheap shop class project or giant version of a child’s night light than a $200,000 work of art.

Now the sophomoric $140,000 so-called “art” on the 5th and Walnut garage entitled “Sky Algorithm” has been installed incorrectly and is inaccessible to the disabled community. Mayor McDavid said he is “embarrassed” by the project. Surely these public art funds could be kept in the community by using a local artist. Here is what Bob had to say:

We make a mistake when we don’t use local artists… We will never see this artist again… For $140,000, I expect it to be accurate.

With the 5th and Walnut debacle in mind, McDavid had some rather sensible things to say about the upcoming Short Street garage project. In response to some locals who would like to see ground-floor retail space in the new garage in order to avoid dead space for pedestrians, McDavid said:

I believe the philosophy that government has no business running retail or commercial development… I understand that a lot of people would like to have commercial. I would also argue that empty commercial is dead space, too.

Hey, Bob, I agree!

And speaking of garages, when Daryl Dudley decided to one-up his first patriotic suggestion to require the council to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every meeting by suggesting that an American flag on a 60-foot flagpole be installed atop the already embarrassing 5th and Walnut garage, McDavid said “no.” McDavid rightly stated:

I consider myself patriotic. I really don’t want to spend the money for this.

McDavid made what is, in my opinion, another correct vote when he voted against allowing Tom Rippeto, owner of Red and Moe Pizzaria, to sell beer on the street inside the boundaries of Summerfest which is funded privately by Blue Note owner Richard King. Requiring King to jump through all of the city hoops and red tape to bring national acts to Downtown Columbia and then allowing another business to piggyback on King’s significant investment without sharing the risk is certainly wrongheaded. Unfortunately the rest of the council did not agree with McDavid and the only other dissenting vote, Kespohl, so King moved his festival to a private venue.

Here is what McDavid had to say:

You’re letting someone put capital at risk, and then you’re letting someone with no risk come in and take his profit margin

Although I haven’t agreed with everything Bob McDavid has done as mayor, these things stand out as good work by a local elected official. Let’s hope for more of the same.

Mark Flakne

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Who Really Wants to Pay for a Short Street Garage?

By Abhi Sivasailam

This piece originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian

For most people, it is easier to spend someone else’s money than it is to spend their own. This is a simple truth, but an important one.

It implies it is natural to expect that politicians and bureaucrats will not scrutinize public purchases made with public dollars with the same rigor and deliberation with which they would make purchases for themselves out of their own pockets. After all, politicians and bureaucrats are people, too.

In this light, it is not surprising that the Columbia City Council’s plans for a new parking garage at Short Street are as fiscally imprudent as they are.

The proposed garage, with an estimated budget of approximately $9 million, would be built in cooperation with a larger, private construction project to erect a new hotel at the current site of the existing Regency Hotel. The garage is expected to house a total of 300 parking spaces, with 100 of these spaces rented to the new hotel at a rate of $600 per year for each space. Additionally, 50 of these 300 spaces will be reserved for future residential development projects. In effect, a $9 million investment by the City of Columbia will earn it a net increase of 150 parking spaces.

This amounts to $60,000 spent on every spot that will be made available to the public. It should be noted that this figure is, of course, a simplification. It does not account for the $60,000 per year that the city will receive for renting spaces to the proposed hotel — which would decrease the per-space cost. Nor does the estimate account for the costs of servicing the debt the city will incur in financing the project — which would increase the per-space cost. Nevertheless, this number is a useful starting point and presents several important questions for the council to consider before moving further.

Most important of these questions: Do Columbia residents collectively value reliable downtown parking at $60,000 or more per spot?

If so, then there are profits to be had! Surely an entrepreneur should find it viable to proceed with the project independent of the city’s involvement. Are there compelling reasons why the private sector cannot or should not take on the task of planning, funding and constructing this project? Why hasn’t the private sector already recognized the demand and acted to cater to it? Are the members of the council more omnisciently aware of what residents are willing to spend their money on than are entrepreneurs and capitalists? Could it be that the government of Columbia possesses a comparative advantage relative to the private sector in development projects such as these? If so, why wasn’t this comparative advantage in display with the widely derided Fifth and Walnut garage?

Alternatively, if Columbia residents do not collectively value parking at $60,000 per spot, then the city would seem to be acting foolishly. The city would be misallocating resources into the production and provision of something that residents do not strongly value. Suppose residents only value downtown parking at $20,000 per spot. In effect then, the city would be subsidizing each spot to the tune of $40,000. The relevant question then becomes: Is there a compelling economic rationale to do so?

These are all questions that the council would do well to consider carefully. They are the kinds of questions that individuals and corporations who are making purchases or investments with their own money would ask themselves. Indeed, they are the kinds of questions that residents of Columbia, whose dollars would be spent on this project, should ask themselves. Unfortunately, they are also precisely the kinds of questions that members of the council, to whom – it seems – public dollars are like Monopoly money, are least likely to ponder.

Abhi Sivasailam is a student at MU. He is treasurer of the MU chapter of Young Americans for Liberty and vice president of Keep Columbia Free.

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Fred and the Giant Garage: A Love Story

It has been nicknamed “Leviathan” by local activist Eapen Thampy, called “overbuilt” by Mayor Bob McDavid, labled an “unattractive nuisance” and “GarageZilla” by local political watchdog blogger Mike Martin, and deemed a career ending “mistake” for Public Works director John Glascock by attorney and neighbor Elton Fay, but newly elected First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt has recently professed his love for what may be the most execrated structure in Columbia, the Fifth and Walnut Parking Garage.

A recent story in the Columbia Tribune reports:

Recently, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt has taken it upon himself to become a supporter of something that many Columbia residents love to hate — the parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets.

Construction of the $15 million garage was delayed by weather, and residents have complained about its size, cost and luminescence. A woman fell to her death from the garage last month. The city has had trouble finding takers for the retail spaces built into the ground level of the garage.

So Schmidt has decided to come to its aid. In a recent radio interview, he said he liked the look of the thing and almost instantly, he said, the phone board lit up. One caller took time to bash Schmidt’s casual dress at council meetings. But Schmidt knows he’s taking an unpopular position.

“It’s an awkward teenager,” Schmidt said about the garage. “It’s too tall and upset about its looks.”

He added: “But I think people are going to like it someday.”

And what the Tribune reports as a $15 million price tag will actually cost the taxpayers of Columbia closer to $21 million when interest is figured into the equation.

How can Fred support an $21,000,000 parking structure that is currently sets nearly empty every day of the week when his own ward, especially the lowest income areas that, incidentally, have the lowest voter turnout, suffers from bedraggledbasic infrastructure like collapsing sewers and crumbling sidewalks? Adding insult to injury, these neighborhoods are nearly in the shadow of the deserted behemoth.

Fred, an active member of PedNet since 2004, seems to have forsaken even his PedNet pals withhis support of the new giant garage at Fifth and Walnut and his desire to make sure the coming Short St. garage is built to maximum size. Ian Thomas, the Executive Director of the PedNet Coalition, has been very outspoken on behalf of PedNet regarding city parking garages and the studies used as justification for the expenditure of public money. There is a well thought out post on the PedNet site condemning the city for building the giant Fifth and Walnut garage in which PedNet notes that their own survey turned up over 500 empty spaces in the existing downtown city garages on business days.

In a letter to the Columbia City Council regarding the pending Short Street parking garage, as reported by Mike Martin in his Columbia Heart Beat blog, Thomas made several well reasoned arguments against the city plan to build another parking garage on Short St.

One glaring conflict of interest can be found in the fact that the same company, Walker Parking Consultants (WPC), that conducted the study which concluded we need more parking garages in Downtown Columbia is the company who was given the contract to design the garages. If they don’t find the need for the garage, then they don’t get the the design money. See how that works?

From The Columbia Heart Beat:

First hired in 2009 to design Columbia’s much-maligned eight story downtown garage on 5th and Walnut, WPC was tapped again for $503,000 to design a second garage on Short Street.
But the WPC study in support of that garage presents an obvious conflict of interest, Thomas explained, because the firm that finds the problem also gets to design the solution. “How independent and objective was this parking study, when Walker Parking Consultants had the incentive of a large public contract if a high level of unmet parking demand were estimated?” Thomas wrote.
A WPC move to tie its own recommendations to H3 Studios’ 2010 Downtown Urban Design CharretteThomas also found “unjustified.” Charrette participants emphasized “livability and esthetics, and enhancement of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit options,” he noted, only to have WPC wrongly co-opt that discussion, “as if the Short Street Garage is a natural consequence of the Charrette,” Thomas wrote. “The H3 Charrette report never discusses automobile parking,” instead emphasizing alternatives such as public transportation.

Also from the Columbia Heart Beat:

“I believe there are some serious problems with parking studies in general, and with these two parking studies in particular,” Thomas told Hoppe, referencing the WPC study and an earlier report from TransSystems Corporation. Ultimately, WPC’s newest data do not support the Short Street garage, he found. “Committing funding to more off-street supply is not going to solve the problems of a lack of on-street supply and associated traffic congestion.”

But wait… at a recent city council retreat, Fred Schmidt expressed concern that the plans for the new Short Street garage might not be big enough.

The Columbia Missourian reports:

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said he did not want the city to limit itself with a small amount of spaces in an already developed area.

“We want to think real hard before we cut down the size and scope of the project,” Schmidt said.

With his recent flip-flop on downtown surveillance cameras and now a split from his bicycle buddies on the issue of downtown parking, I’m curious to see what Fred will do next.

Here is the KOMU video about the empty garage.

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