During last week’s City Council workshop new plans were unveiled outlining two alternative sites for the City’s proposed Cultural Arts Center.
Questions about parking and cost at the planned site at the corner of Hall Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard prompted analysis into alternative sites on the western side of Orleans Square and at the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue and MLK.
The Cultural Arts Center is a $17 million project funded by SPLOST V that will include a 500-seat performance hall and a 250-seat black box theater as well as gallery space, classrooms and studios. Plans called for 150 parking spaces to accompany the building.
According to a presentation by Parking Services Director Sean Brandon, by restructuring parking in the area of the Hall Street site, approximately 130 parking spaces could be created. Plans were developed to create street level parking by redeveloping a portion of Kayton–Frazier by the Housing Authority, according to the acting City Manager. That idea had to be scrapped after a change in priorities by the Housing Authority.
The lack of available parking would force construction of underground parking, which was deemed too expensive to be cost–effective. The City is currently in litigation with the general contractor of the underground parking deck beneath Ellis Square because of unforeseen difficulties and expenses, adding to the reluctance to pursue additional subterranean construction.
On average, the city collects about $3.50 per parking space per day in its garages, with the highest performer (the Ellis Square garage) collecting about $5.50 per space per day on average. An underground garage at the Hall Street site would need to collect more than $9 per site per day to be viable.
“Numbers for the underground facility just don’t work,” explained Brandon.
Plans for potential alternate sites were presented by urban planner Christian Sottile. The first site, between the Civic Center and the western edge of Orleans Square, would utilize the former site of the Municipal Auditorium, a grand performance hall that existed in the early 20th Century.
Within the footprint of the former structure, currently 45 parking spaces at the front of the Civic Center parking lot, Sottile demonstrated how the building could include the desired cultural arts facilities as well as the newly proposed W.W. Law Research and Preservation Center.
There is some opposition to that site from residents around Orleans Square who feel that overflow parking on the streets during Civic Center events is already disruptive to their quality of life.
The second site, which stands at the corner of Oglethorpe and MLK, is currently an empty lot, much of which is owned by Chatham County. Plans for that site include three separate structures straddling Oglethorpe Lane.
Alderman Van Johnson expressed some concern about traffic conditions and parking there because of the volume of cars coming over the bridge.
The site at the corner of MLK and Oglethorpe appears to be the most politically palatable choice because expectations for the Cultural Arts Center have been that it would help anchor a new phase of economic development along the MLK corridor.
Alderman Tony Thomas expressed some dismay that the City had paid nearly a million dollars for the Hall Street property, but now was considering other options.
“The City can’t keep buying sites without master planning,” said Thomas, who cited purchases of the proposed arena site and property for the Bull Street Fire Station as further evidence of their occasional hastiness.
Acting City Manager Rochelle Small–Toney presented the option of using the Hall Street site, directly across from construction for the new Food Lion grocery store, as a mixed use development that would include affordable housing for seniors and street level retail.