Beaufort is fortunate that private enterprise wants to address the downtown parking problem that seems to have been discussed but not resolved since the Model A.
The plan for a parking deck on Craven Street deserves support.
It also demands close scrutiny on how it would fit in a historic district.
But most of all it needs open minds.
It is discouraging to see so much of the discussion focusing on the entrepreneur putting his own money on the table, Dick Stewart. He has long been a lightning rod around the town where he graduated from high school in 1967 and returned as an early retiree to revive failing historical buildings and ugly commercial areas. Stewart is not the problem. If anything, he’s a godsend. He has invested millions of dollars to help the in-town economy of Beaufort thrive.
In this instance, Stewart is again a lightning rod for public venting. He proposes a four-story, three-floor parking deck that would be 32 feet high and have a 42,000-square-foot footprint in the block bordered by Craven, West, Port Republic and Charles streets.
It would have almost 500 parking spaces used by employees and guests of the inns, restaurants and meeting facility owned by Stewart in the vicinity. The public could park there if it were not booked.
Stewart is straightforward in saying it will not solve all of the city’s parking woes. But we know it would help.
We also know that the sprawling asphalt surface parking lot it would replace is hideously ugly. A neon-clad wax museum would be an improvement for that site.
We know that parking decks can blend well into historic districts. Obviously, each situation is unique. But one is hard pressed to even be aware there is a public parking deck on Queen Street in downtown Charleston, for example.
We know that city land-use plans have long pointed to that location as the right site for a parking deck.
We know that the city cannot afford to build a parking deck on its own, though a referendum for a 1 percent Beaufort County sales tax would help.
We know that the scale of this proposal may be too much. The city planning staff has indicated that.
We know that the city’s National Landmark Historic District is protected by special oversight and that the parking deck has gained initial approval from that review board.
We know that Stewart’s businesses are only as strong as Beaufort’s character, and anything he or anyone else does to erode the look, feel and texture of downtown Beaufort will be a self-inflicted casualty that no one can afford.
We know that the Tabernacle Baptist Church across the street has objected to the mass of the parking deck, and that objection should be taken seriously. Mayor Billy Keyserling has suggested that perhaps “liner buildings” could be added along the streets to help mitigate the mass problem.
We know that both residents and the developer need to keep open minds about this potential action on an overly-discussed city problem.