Put city parking on front burner

info@islandpacket.comAugust 12, 2013 

The city of Beaufort's Civic Master Plan calls for a parking garage on privately held land where a yet-to-be-identified developer hopes to build a five-story, 80-room hotel.

Meanwhile, the only apparent hindrance for redeveloping the Beaufort Downtown Marina -- save a private developer willing to pony up for the project -- is the insistence of Mayor Billy Keyserling and other city officials that any parking spaces lost there be replaced with spaces elsewhere.

It doesn't take a crystal ball to see that it's time for Beaufort to quickly assess its parking needs. In a city where battles royal break out over parking meters, this will be no small task.

Ideas about parking garages typically don't gain much consensus. Some argue one is needed as a convenience and boon to downtown businesses; others argue a garage would be out of scale and an aesthetic affront to the Downtown Historic District.

Both sides can make valid points, but the city should keep its eye on the ball by sticking to a cost-benefit analysis.

It can be difficult at certain times of year or times of the day for motorists to park close to their intended destination. On the other hand, rarely is a walk of several blocks necessary. What then is the cost to the public, per footstep saved, of a parking garage, and can the cost be recouped?

Does a parking garage truly threaten the historic-district designation, widely viewed as integral to Beaufort's tourism industry? And is the need for parking growing along with the city's ambitions for redevelopment and more productive tourism marketing? Or is it shrinking along with its resident population, particularly in the core neighborhoods?

Development deals in this economy are not sure things, and a lot must happen before the surface parking lot and old grocery store on Port Republic Street give way to a hotel.

Nonetheless, deeper examination of the city's parking won't be a wasted effort even if the hotel never comes to fruition. The city's aspirations elsewhere beg for a solution.

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