By Kevin Collison
A new engineering report is recommending the Barney Allis Plaza garage be immediately closed along with the Plaza above, ratcheting the pressure as the City Council explores alternatives to rebuild the aging civic asset
While the report prepared by TranSystems, a city consultant, found no “immediate structural integrity issues” in the underground garage, it cited numerous code violations, notably a non-working ventilation system and antiquated fire sprinklers.
“Following the initial assessment, due to the magnitude of code violations, the recommendation is that the (city) immediately close the parking garage for vehicles and pedestrians,” the report concluded.
“TranSystems also recommends the plaza over the garage be closed to pedestrian traffic.”
The preliminary report followed a March 31 inspection.
It’s included in the City Council support documents for legislation seeking an additional $1 million to study options to address the problems at the aging garage and plaza in the heart of downtown.
Last month, a consultant report recommended an $61.7 million option that called for lowering the plaza to street level and building a 400-space garage beneath it. Barney Allis Plaza’s future revival also was the subject of a study by the Urban Land Institute in 2018.
Additional replacement parking would be provided at a proposed 400-space garage on property the city recently purchased at 12th and Broadway. No cost estimate has been made for the proposed garage.
The Barney Allis Plaza and garage were built in 1955 to serve Municipal Auditorium and it was upgraded in 1985. In recent years, the lower one-third of the underground garage was closed because of significant deterioration to the structure.
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.
The TranSystems inspection found code violations including “essentially” no ventilation; the stairs and guardrails noncompliant, and no emergency lighting in main parking areas.
The report found most of the fire sprinkler system in the garage appeared to be original.
“Deterioration of the system and components are expected, and accessories and monitoring equipment is antiquated and in need of replacement,” it stated.
It also noted the perimeter sidewalks were crumbling and have “created hazardous walking conditions and a danger to accessibility.”
So far, city officials have resisted closing the garage despite the TranSystem recommendation.
“We have not made a final decision as to close the garage at this point,” said Oscar McGaskey Jr., director of convention and entertainment facilities.
“We’re keeping the garage open until we make some minor prepares to keep it operational until a long-term decision is made.”
McGaskey said the city staff doesn’t fully agree with the TranSystem conclusion to close it.
“The garage needs to be repaired, no question,” he said. “Is it unsafe? We’d never allow traffic if there were any safety reasons.”
An attempt to reach a representative from TranSystems for comment was unsuccessful.
James Freed, the city architect, said the city is still awaiting a formal report from TranSystems.
“The garage remains structurally stable, the concern is regarding status of life safety systems including the fire suppression systems,” Freed said in an email.
“Reports from the ongoing fire suppression system testing indicates the system remains operational though some minor repairs may be needed.
“As you know the garage currently has very limited use due to COVID-19 event cancellations and stay-at-home orders, so the limited ventilation, repaired sump pumps and preliminary fire suppression testing updates suggest the garage can continue to function.
“We will re-evaluate daily as more complete/accurate facts and data are known. A temporary closure could happen at any time if deemed necessary, however as of now the garage/plaza remain open.”
The City Council legislation seeking additional funding to study the future of Barney Allis Plaza is scheduled for the Council Finance Committee meeting today, but consideration is expected to be postponed.
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