COLUMBIA, 5/23/11 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia's new 10-story parking garage -- nicknamed GarageZilla by a local mortgage broker -- has become a potentially dangerous hangout for teens and pre-teens looking for the high that comes from looking out up high.
GarageZilla was also the flashpoint for strident criticism from attorney and former school board member Elton Fay in a devastating KOMU television May 16 news report.
Touring the garage with a camera crew, Fay suggested that John Glascock lose his job as City of Columbia public works director over the overpriced hulk. The story also showed assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine unable to answer basic questions about the garage's size and the parking study that preceded it.
St. Romaine sheepishly admitted that even now, he doesn't know how many parking spaces the garage contains and never read the study.
Despite reassurances from City Hall in the wake of a recent suicide, GarageZilla's top floor is under-protected, with guardrails that actually vanish in places as concrete walls angle up and down around the perimeter, varying protection from 62 inches to 42 inches. The guardrails are equipped with lug bolt holes that may accomodate curved screens, guard wires, or some other added protection.
Other floors have no guardrails, only 42" (3.5 ft) concrete walls. Photos online here.
Garage safety has been on the mind of several local parents, as the structure has become an increasingly popular teen hangout. "I see kids hanging around up there all the time," one parent told the Heart Beat. "They lean way WAY over the railings, drop things onto the street, yell at passersby, and just crazy kid stuff. It doesn't take a genius to see that they could lean too far over and fall."
In a seering indictment, attorney Elton Fay told KOMU he blames City of Columbia public works director John Glascock for the ten story travesty.
The television report begins with a zinger: City Hall ignored its own parking study, conducted by consultant Trans Systems, in constructing the garage. The Trans Systems study recommended 300 spaces; GarageZilla holds 703 spaces. What's more, city officials misrepresented the much larger end result to stakeholders like Fay, whose law offices are directly across the street.
"So who is responsible for the fact that the garage is more than double the recommendation?" the KOMU reporter asks. "Elton Fay blames John Glascock."
"That would be enough in most places to cause somebody to lose their job, over a mistake like this one," Fay insists. "And that's what it is -- a mistake."
In an even more troubling sequence, assistant Columbia city manager Tony St. Romaine can't tell a reporter even the most basic facts about the garage, a project he championed. KOMU notes the final recommendation for just 300 new spaces, then asks St. Romaine why the garage added more than double the amount recommended by the study. With interest, all those new spaces will cost $21 million.
St. Romaine: "I don't think that garage has 700 spaces in it. Does it?"
KOMU: "It has 703 spaces."
St. Romaine: "Is it 703 spaces?"
St. Romaine: "Is it 703 spaces?"
KOMU: "703 spaces."
St. Romaine: "Uhhh -- You know, I am not even familiar with the study."
Equally disheartening, Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid, M.D. portrays city administrators and city Council representatives asleep at the switch -- if not grossly negligent in their fiduciary duties.
"I personally think the 5th and Walnut garage was overbuilt," McDavid tells KOMU, noting that he and five others on the Council were not part of the decision. "I believe the process was flawed. We committed $16 million to something that is going to lose money for a long time."
If five high-rise office buildings appear in a few years, the garage designers will look brilliant, McDavid continues. "If however, it continues to stand solitary and alone, monopolizing the skyline in 20 years, they won't look so good."
So far, the garage has picked up 36 net new parking customers, KOMU reports.
KOMU story and video: