Parking Deck Delivers Promise and Problems Downtown

Kelby Lamar

March 31, 2011

Story 3 Follow-Up Final

Parking is a hassle.

That seems to be the belief that everyone has when it comes to downtown Athens.

The Downtown Athens Parking System or (DAPS) consists of three types of parking choices.  Most citizens park in one of 750 short-term on-street spaces.

Shoppers visiting Athens for two hours or less use these spaces most often.

Besides these street spaces, there are also four surface lots used for monthly parking.

Three of the lots are near Dougherty Street with the fourth lot adjacent to Hull Street.  People who live or work in downtown Athens use these lots most often.

The third type of parking service available to citizens is the College Avenue Parking Deck.  The deck provides the only covered parking service available to patrons of downtown Athens.

However, a new parking deck is in development to accompany the College Avenue Deck.  Atlanta-based construction company Batson-Cook is building the new deck.

The new deck is scheduled to open in August 2011, and be about 75 feet tall.

The price of the deck will be $17 million and include 520 spaces.

Unlike the College Avenue deck, the first level of the new parking deck will include retail and office space.

Although the parking deck does not have a name yet, several are in contention.  The names include the “Theater District Deck (in recognition of Georgia Theatre, Morton Theatre and nearby Ciné) or Ben Epps Deck (since the aviator first took flight a few feet away),” according to a story in the Athens Banner Herald.

Kathryn Lookofsky, director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority said that ADDA officials have even sought suggestions for the name of the deck on the social networking site Facebook, however the results were not as the ADDA had expected.  “They didn’t get many serious submissions,” Lookofsky said.

Besides the name and cost of the new parking deck, the building of the deck has caused problems as well.

The construction of the new parking deck has been a noisy intrusion for citizens and business owners alike.

The banging of drills and hammers, and the clanking of skyscrapers during the workday disturbs those who work and live in downtown Athens.

Dressed in dirty t-shirts and blue jeans and hard, yellow hats, workers continue construction on the parking deck from early morning until the late hours of the night.

A crisp U.S. flag flies at the top of the structure, blowing effortlessly in the wind.

Several critics are opposed to the construction of the new deck, according to District 6 Commissioner Ed Robinson.

Robinson said the county legally is required to build the deck under state law because voters approved it as part of a 2004 referendum on a 1 percent sales tax.

Citizens have been raising their concerns at recent commission meetings according to Robinson, but because the measure was approved so long ago there is nothing the commission can do.  “We simply can’t apply the funds to anything other than the parking deck,” he said.

As obvious as it may be, Lookosky says that the main reason for the deck is the need for more parking spaces in downtown Athens.  She claims that the deck is being built for no other reason than the absolute need for more available parking downtown.

However, several people do not believe this claim.  Because the deck includes retail stores and shops at its bottom and top levels, of which Waffle House and Momma Goldberg’s Deli have been confirmed, many believe that increased revenue for the downtown district is the main goal.

Ashley Cobbs, a graduate student at the University of Georgia from Buffalo, N.Y., does not understand why the deck costs $17 million to build.  “That seems like a lot of money just for parking spaces,” she said.  “I admit sometimes it’s hard to find a space to park downtown, but if you time it right, you will usually be ok.”

Citizens may have reason to worry, as the fee to park in the new deck will be higher than any other place in downtown Athens.  Starting in 2011, the fee to park in the deck will be $2.00 per hour rising 25 cents each year until 2013 where it will top off at $2.50 per hour.

Though the prices have remained steady in all of the other parking locations, the construction of the deck has created a parking disaster in downtown Athens.

Salmon colored parking tickets adorn the windshields of several cars, providing an unwelcome surprise to those who illegally park or stay longer than their allotted time.

Students, business owners, and visitors alike all receive these tickets because of parking violations downtown.

Some citizens complain about the parking fees while others complain about the number of spaces.  For instance, on weekends cars can be seen circling the perimeter of downtown Athens for minutes on end to find a decent parking space.

Yet on a calm, Wednesday evening spaces abound in virtually every area of downtown.

It remains to be seen whether the new parking deck will actually solve the parking dilemma downtown.  But for the time being, citizens will have to endure the current state of parking, and take their chances on finding a convenient space.


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