Saturday, February 19, 2011

THE GARAGE THAT ATE COLUMBIA: Bigwigs -- and the Beast

A hideous thing, too tall by half, and why the powers made it be 
COLUMBIA, 2/16/11  (Beat Byte) --  At a business forum last month, an attorney who now works in the shadow of a beast -- a 10-story parking garage across from Columbia's downtown post office -- blasted the behemoth.

"It towers over my windows as I look out my office," said Grimes, Fay & Kopp partner Andrew Kopp, in a surprisingly frank assessment.   With some notable exceptions, local lawyers rarely criticize City Hall in public.  But Kopp was clearly irked.  City officials misrepresented the beast's size, he explained, apparently lying when they promised a "maximum of six stories, more likely four."  
With a flawed business plan that suggests people will park in the belly of the beast, then walk blocks, even in snow, to dine out, shop, or go to the bank, Kopp said the garage "started us off, a lot of people from that area, on a bad note." 
Kopp may be onto something.  Even the logic behind the beast seems hopelessly flawed:  How could a town supposedly dedicated to pedestrian-friendly, low-car living possibly erect such a monument to overseas oil?   It doesn't make sense.  And if Trib Talk, radio shows, and casual conversations are any guide, few observers can find anything nice to say about it, either.   
That is, unless they stand to benefit from it. 
Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters raised that red flag when he rushed in to tamp down growing criticism of the giant garage in an editorial last December.
Carping du jour?

Garage critics, Waters (right, with son Andy) wrote, were "carping du jour," a "smallish yet vocal contingent" calling the car-hungry thing "an ugly monstrosity that casts unholy shadows on supposedly hallowed ground" (clearly overstated for effect -- I've heard no one suggest that the former parking lot upon which the garage now squats was "hallowed.") 

Forget Kopp and the other minions, miffed over lack of truthful information, Waters urged.  The parking garage was thoroughly discussed in regular open city meetings.   
"As its final stages are completed, its beauty part will also emerge, including colored glass panels enclosing the stairwells from bottom to top, funded with the famous Percent for Art initiative," Waters wrote.  "Centrally located parking space is necessary for downtown to grow and prosper." 
Prosper, yes.  But whom?
With his many nearby real estate holdings, Mr. Waters could certainly prosper, especially if the redevelopment express gathers steam and all the flat surface parking on East Ash Street has to go UP.  
Through a recently-created holding company called Fourth Street Property Management, LLC, the Waters family joins three other entities as East Ash Street's largest property owners:  the City of Columbia; Boone County; Ray and Katherine Eckstein, millionaire shipping magnates from Wisconsin who also own the downtown post office.  
Presently a hodge-podge of oversized parking lots and underused buildings, East Ash abuts the Columbia Housing Authority complex on Park Avenue, and couldn't be riper for redevelopment. 
Getting parked cars off those parking lots is imperative for any redevelopment effort. 
So desperate will the need for replacement parking become that both city and county recently floated a ruse to reconstruct formerly parallel parking on East Ash behind the Court House.  The redesign: a back-in parking scheme that met with fierce ridicule.  The ruse:  that back-in parking was -- of all things -- good for bicyclists. 
The real reason for the switch, however, is almost certainly that back-in parking nearly doubles the number of parking spaces (all of them metered, by the way).  
The High Cost of Parking
In 2009, Vince Schoemehl, the former St. Louis Mayor, had city leaders in thrall, suggesting that a large parking garage was a key first step in redeveloping "blighted" (there's that word again) and underused areas. 

With Mr. Waters' playing host, Mr. Schoemehl preached his garage gospel all over Columbia, even giving Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine a book entitled "The High Cost of Free Parking." 

For a city whose residents pride themselves on smoke-free, low-car living, that cost is already getting steeper -- up $15 million already, and all for a parking garage only a select few seem to like. 

1 comment:

  1. did the Waters ancestors profit form the 1950's urban renewal/removal that condemned/blighted black owned businesses in the same area where the Waters' control most of the real estate this article is talking about?