Open minds needed on parking garage issue

Lots of questions must be answered before a parking garage is built in downtown Beaufort.

newsroom@islandpacket.comMarch 6, 2014 

If downtown Beaufort needs a parking garage -- or if its residents and business owners want one -- the Port Republic Square block recently purchased by the Beaufort Inn seems like the best place to put it.

But those are two big ifs.

Structured Parking Solutions LLC has an option on a portion of the property, and the company's director of development, Greg Darden, was in town last week to begin gauging the reception a garage is likely to receive.

"If the entire community does not buy into the need for parking -- deal off. Period. Deal off," he said.

That's an encouraging sentiment. However, anyone familiar with Beaufort parking issues -- from controversies over kiosk meters to the future of the Beaufort Downtown Marina lot -- knows there's not even a remote chance the entire community will buy into whatever is ultimately decided.

So let's hope Darden was speaking in hyperbole -- not because we support a garage in Beaufort, but because now seems a logical time to broach the subject. After all, Beaufort Inn's parent company, 303 Associates, has ideas for that block, and redevelopment of the marina parking lot, which advances at mach speed, is contingent upon replacing the spaces that would be lost there.

What's more, the city's Civic Master Plan identifies the location as ideal for a parking structure (albeit with its characteristic presumptuousness about privately owned property).

Port Republic Square already contains a private surface lot, which provides an important amenity but does little for the downtown aesthetic. Certainly, it is possible to build a structure there that folds neatly into its surroundings. It might even enhance the block.

But is such a structure feasible?

If not, would and should the city accept a less expensive, less attractive alternative?

Would a garage be strictly a private enterprise, or would the city subsidize it?

And if it is to be subsidized, will there be changes to nearby on-street parking? What becomes of the revenue stream that on-street parking provides to the city's Redevelopment Commission and Main Street Beaufort, USA, not to mention its current parking contractor?

What about security within the garage? And traffic patterns around it?

An even more fundamental question: Is a garage truly needed, or is the amount and accessibility of downtown parking already sufficient?

Certainly, a parking structure has far-reaching implications for the city's attempts to create walkable, live-where-you-work districts. It also has implications for the infill and redevelopment of the Northwest Quadrant and for the University of South Carolina Beaufort's northern campus.

With so much still uncertain and so much still to learn, we urge all to keep an open mind.

At this point, very few people know enough about possibilities, benefits and side effects to make the sort of declarative statements that are the starting gun for most city parking squabbles.

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