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Oxford Square parking garage site changed

Oxford’s Downtown Parking Advisory Commission members have changed their minds.

After more than a year of reviewing data and discussing pros and cons of viable locations for a parking garage, the commission made a formal recommendation Tuesday to the Oxford Board of Aldermen to build a parking garage in the city-owned parking lot located behind Oxford Square North shopping center, that’s home to the Oxford-University Club.

However, it wasn’t the first recommendation of its kind from the commission.

In 2013, the commission recommended to the aldermen to build a garage behind City Hall.

“The city then went to a format of paid parking using meters,” said commission chairman Tom Sharpe. “That substantially changed parking around the Square and we were charged with taking a new look at the need for a garage.”

Best location

The commission decided the location behind the O-U Club is now a better option because it’s bigger, closer to the “core” of the activity on the Square and would be less visible, requiring a less expensive facade. Also, to build a garage behind City Hall would have required the city to purchase an existing condominium in the rear of the existing parking lot and owner, David Hill, told the city he had no intention of selling the property.

While the commission has agreed  since May that the space behind Oxford Square North was the best spot for a garage, the commission took the last four months continuing to review data and funding mechanisms to make sure the city could afford to build the garage without raising taxes.

The commission determined that if the city charged $2 a day for a parking garage and upped the hourly parking rate up to $1.25, charged 75 cents an hour in the now-free parking lot and maybe increased enforcement to midnight, the city could make enough money to pay bond payment for a garage.

Mayor Pat Patterson said he felt the garage should remain free.

“We made a commitment when we started this thing that the garage would be free,” he said. “While $2 a day seems modest, I’m convinced we can make enough revenue to keep it free.”

The garage is estimated to cost about $9 million for a 450-space parking garage. The bond payment each year would be about $650,000.

There are options

Alderman Robyn Tannehill said there are several options that the city could choose, including charging for the garage during certain hours or special events, while leaving two floors open for Square employees, as she’s seen other cities do with their parking garages.

The garage could take 12 to 18 months to construct, which would leave the downtown area’s largest parking lot out of commission for most of that time.

The aldermen took no action on the parking commission’s recommendation. Patterson said it would be on their agenda during the first meeting in November for their consideration as to whether to move forward with the parking commission’s recommendation to build a garage behind Oxford Square North. However, if the board elects to move forward, any decisions as to whether to increase parking fees, enforcement periods or whether to charge to park in the garage would be considered at subsequent meetings throughout the year.