By Kevin Collison
Years of planning to redesign and rebuild Barney Allis Plaza and its underground parking were likely shelved for the foreseeable future Wednesday after a Council Committee recommended a temporary garage fix instead.
Committee members voted 4-2 to stop funding a planning process that’s been well underway to rebuild the civic landmark.
It called for lowering the Plaza to street level and building a new 400-space underground garage at an estimated cost of $61.7 million.
Instead, the Finance Committee voted unanimously to spend about $1.6 million to repair the upper two levels of the garage, about 600 spaces, to keep it operating the next two- to three years.
The Committee recommendation is expected to be approved by the full Council today.
Downtown advocates and organizations supporting a new Barney Allis Plaza plan were disappointed by the decision.
They had hoped a revamped Plaza would be a showcase site for hosting the National League of Cities Convention in late 2022 and the NFL Draft in spring 2023.
“I thought we were over the days of putting band-aids on things, but apparently not,” said Jared Campbell, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association.
“The DNA is very disappointed it was shelved. We saw it as a great opportunity to put the best in place green space downtown. It could have an an incredible amenity for downtown and the city.”
Councilman Lee Barnes Jr. made the motion to discontinue funding for the long-term Barney Allis planning process.
“It’s clear there’s not a real plan on how we move forward,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of numbers that have been thrown around. We have time to deal with that issue later.”
Councilwoman Kathryn Shields led the effort to continue planning, saying it would at least allow the city to take advantage of potential federal infrastructure investments this fall to bolster the post-Covid national economy.
“We don’t have time if we want to make it applicable for stimulus money,” she told Barnes.
The long-term future of Barney Allis Plaza, which was built in 1955, has been a downtown worry for the last couple years. It’s three-level underground garage has been deteriorating, with the bottom level closed for years because of a crumbling ceiling.
The Plaza itself, which is elevated above the surrounding streets, has been criticized for its poor design and visibility, as well as its deteriorating condition.
Two years ago, the Urban Land Institute, an association of planners and architects, studied the aging facility and made recommendations for redesigning the Plaza to make it more appealing.
Matters came to a boil in early April when a city consultant urged the immediate closure of the garage because of numerous code violations including lack of ventilation, broken fire sprinklers and electrical service problems.
The proposal to appropriate another $1 million to continue planning for a comprehensive overhaul of Barney Allis had been before the Council Finance Committee since mid-March. The city already has spent about $1 million on planning for a replacement.
The plan was intended to get the city to the point where it would be ready to go out for bid on the work.
But committee members, faced with a looming budget crisis because of the economic meltdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, differed sharply on how to proceed.
A consultant hired by the city has estimated it would cost $40 million to repair the existing garage over the next 10 years or $30 million to demolish it.
As part of a comprehensive plan, the city also has acquired property at 12th and Broadway to build an above-ground, 400-space garage, that would supplement the Barney Allis parking. No funding for that estimated $20 million project has been identified.
The Downtown Council, which supported a new Barney Allis Plaza, also was disappointed by the Council committee recommendation.
“This is a missed opportunity to come up with a useful project,” said Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Council. “It seems like a great shovel-ready project to be in the mix to put people back to work.”
Dietrich did say his organization was glad the city will appropriate money to repair the upper levels of the garage.
Last week, a Downtown Council representative said Barney Allis Plaza and its garage had become a ‘hotspot’ for social problems because of its poor condition.
The Urban Land Institute released a statement saying the organization would be ready to continue working with the city when it “reopens” the discussion about the future of Barney Allis Plaza.
“The ULI District Council Technical Assistance Panel’s 2018 recommendations laid a solid planning foundation for the future of the important block of downtown and we were happy to see progress being made,” Joe Perry, chair of ULI mission advancement, said.
“Parking for the metropolitan area’s most important convention assets and ample outdoor convening space will likely never be more important than the day our city reopens for conventions and mass events.”
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