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Commission selects site for parking garage

After going over parking data and pros and cons for the last several months, the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission voted Friday to select the parking lot behind the Oxford Square North shopping center on North Lamar Boulevard.

Before voting on the location, the commission first voted as to whether Oxford needed a parking garage. All commissioners voted that there was a need.

“In looking at the growth rates projected for the city, county and university, I don’t think we’re necessary building this for today, but for two years from now and it will take that long to get the process done,” said Commissioner Mike Harris, who is also the parking and transportation director for the University of Mississippi.

The commission will make their recommendation to the Oxford Board of Aldermen during a work session meeting on May 12. It is ultimately the aldermen’s decision if and where a parking garage will be built.

In 2013, the study was done to examine two possible locations for a parking garage — behind Oxford Square North, in the area commonly known as the city car lot, and behind City Hall. The study showed examples of a smaller garage in each site, and a larger garage. The commission at that time thought the City Hall spot would be the best, if the city built the larger garage. However, to do that it would mean an existing condominium in the rear of the existing parking lot would have to be removed and owner, David Hill, said he had no intention of selling the property.

The talk of a parking garage died down for a couple of years after the city put in stricter parking enforcement around the Square which helped move the cars and created more empty spaces. In September 2014, the city started a paid-parking system and metered most of the downtown parking spaces around the Square, leaving the outlining city-owned lots free. The paid parking has also helped to move cars but occupancy studies have shown that during business hours and dinner time, most of the spaces are full, especially Wednesday-Saturday. The need for a parking garage came back up and in the fall, the commission was tasked again to determine if a parking garage was needed and then if so, where would the best place would be and how the city pay for it.

The commission in December went over parking revenue figures and determined that if the city charged $2 a day for a parking garage and upped the hourly parking rate up to $1.25 and maybe increased enforcement to midnight, the city could make enough money to pay the $800,000 a year bond payment for a garage.

No decisions on changing prices or hours of enforcement were voted on Friday.

“We don’t need to know all the details on how we will pay for it today, only that we know we can pay for it,” said Commissioner Kevin Frye.

All but one commissioner said the lot behind Oxford Square North was their preferred location. Commissioner Dreher Harris abstained from voting, said he felt he needed more information before voting on which location would be best.

The site is not without problems. Access is limited and the 260-plus existing parking spaces will be lost once construction begins. However, it is the largest location and is less expensive to build. Parking garages cost about $18,000 per slip to build.

Hill said he and his family were relieved and very happy with the commission’s decision.

“We have felt for years that the parking garage, if the city needs one, should be where the most garage could be built for the least cost,” Hill said, “in the location where the public obviously prefers to park, and on the side of the Square nearest he most commercial activity. We certainly commend each commission member for their dedication to the detailed tasks of researching the relative traffic and parking issues and analyzing the collected data necessary to reach their decision and make their recommendation to the Board of Aldermen.”

If the aldermen accept the recommendation, the commission will begin discussing funding options in more detail and start the design process, which will all be approved by the aldermen before being implemented.