Athens parking garage to receive $630,000 facelift

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Parking garage

The city of Athens plans to update the uptown parking garage with new colors and signs that are intended to make the structure more visible and user-friendly. 

Athens City Council members listened to a presentation late last month from city Service-Safety Director Andy Stone, who shared details of the design plans.

“You’re going to ask me, ‘why are we doing another parking garage project; we just did one,’” Stone said at the meeting March 25. “The reason is because this project that we’re seeking to do now is really for the look and functionality of the parking garage.”

Council member Peter Kotses explained at that meeting that the city in 2015 took out a bond, or a loan, for $2 million to pay for “structural improvements to keep the asset running for the next 20, 25 years.”

Stone said the garage was originally built “right around 1970,” and that the city is still paying off the loan for the 2015 project. “We’ve been paying on that loan and will continue to pay on that loan until the bond’s expired,” he said.

This upcoming project will have three main focuses: lighting, signage and wayfinding, and stairwell updates. Athens-based design firm BDT Architects has been selected to design the project.

All of the compact fluorescent lights that the city installed 10 years ago will be replaced with LEDs. “Not only will they save even more money, from an electric perspective, but they’ll be twice as bright,” Stone said at the meeting. “One of the most significant comments we get from the public is ‘I don’t park in the parking garage because it’s too dark,’ and this will remedy that for all the floors.”

Signage within and outside of the building will be overhauled “completely,” Stone said. The various levels in the garage also will be color-coded.

“No longer will there be a one lower and one upper and two lower and two upper, but there’ll be a yellow floor or a green floor,” Stone said, adding that the spaces, elevator areas and other features in the building will be painted to correspond with the color of the floor that they’re on.

“There’ll be major changes to the external signage, also,” he said. Like in many other cities, the new signage will incorporate “a giant circle with a P in it” to indicate public parking.

“Many people come and they say ‘well I thought that (garage) was for city employees because it says Municipal Parking Garage,’ so they don’t park there,” Stone said.

“…Included on that large external sign with the big P will be a space counter, so it’ll let you know how many spaces are remaining inside the garage,” he added.

Stone explained that a sensor at the entrance of the garage will keep track of total available spaces. “For every car that goes in, it decreases the total number (of spaces) by that, and for every car that goes out it increases the total.”

Another part of the project calls for opening up stairwells to be more integrated with the rest of the garage.

“The stairwells are the other major complaint about the parking garage,” Stone said. “…They’re scary: people don’t want to walk in the stairwells because they go into them at nighttime and they’re closed off and (people) are scared. And they smell bad because people pee in them.

“What this project will do will be to remove all the doors and remove all of the non-load-bearing cinder block walls,” Stone continued, adding that modern parking garages are designed such that “the stairs are not a separate funnel to go up and down… It’s open to the parking area. This (project) will do that as well.”

Stone said the hope is that the new stairwell design will make people feel safer using the stairs, and deter urination in the area.

At this point, the meters in the garage will not be replaced, though they can be used with either change or the Parkmobile app, Stone said. There will, however, be additional change machines added as a part of the project.

During another City Council meeting on April 1, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said the city is also “looking into an overhaul of the security cameras… for all floors” in the garage.

The estimated total cost of the project is $630,000, as stated at the meeting earlier this month.

Construction ideally could be completed before Halloween, Stone said, but that may not be possible depending on the contractors available to complete the project. “We’ll look at how bids go,” he said.

Money for the project will come from the city’s parking garage fund.

“We think between money that’s in the parking garage fund right now and money that will come in,” Stone said, “we’ll be able to go ahead and take the whole (project) at one time and still continue to make the debt payment on the bond that we put in place a few years ago, and continue to operate the parking garage moving forward.”

Stone said that projection is based on “conservative estimates” of expected parking garage revenue, should that revenue remain the same as it has in the past.

“There is some belief that once these improvements are made that the parking garage will be used more and the revenue will go up, but I’m not counting on that for our projections,” Stone said.

City Council member Kotses said that “each level has a different picture, by those elevator doors,” that incorporates Athens imagery. On one level, shown in the designs created by BDT Architects, a mural near the elevators depicts Athens Bricks in orange; another level boasts an image of White’s Mill in bright pink.

Council member Sam Crowl said he thinks it’s “a great idea” to enhance outdoor signage, including the space counter.

At the April 1 meeting, council member Sarah Grace said she supports the project, adding that she has noticed many people “looking at the signs, trying to figure out ‘can I go in and park’” in the garage.

“There’s almost always parking in the garage,” Grace said, adding that she supports “whatever we can do to help people know that it’s there and feel more comfortable using the space.”