On Tuesday, August 6, 2019 Birmingham residents will be asked to consider a ballot proposal that would fund the reconstruction of the North Old Woodward parking structure and extend Bates Street from Willits to Old Woodward. The planning for this project was initiated in 1996 with the creation of the Downtown Birmingham 2016 Plan and has been under consideration since that time. The plan is now being advanced due to the increasing demand for parking downtown, which reaches 95 percent of its total capacity during the week on a regular basis and given that the North Old Woodward parking structure is the oldest structure in the city’s system and has increasing maintenance required to operate it.
Birmingham residents are being asked to consider a general obligation bond in an amount not to exceed $57.4 million. In addition, Birmingham residents will not be charged for this cost to repay the bond debt for the parking structure and street extension. The cost to repay the debt on the bonds will come from the Enterprise Parking Fund, which is comprised of user fees paid to the parking system. There is no tax increase to Birmingham residents if the bond is approved. All of the existing parking structures were funded with general obligation bonds and this allows the bonds to benefit from the attractiveness of the city’s current AAA bond rating and receive the best rates in the municipal bond market.
The ballot proposal includes funding for two public elements. These include the reconstruction of the North Old Woodward parking structure with a small retail liner included on the first floor of the structure and the extension of Bates Street with on-street parking from Willits north and east to Old Woodward to provide access to the two entrances of the new structure.
The new city parking structure will have six stories above ground and three stories below ground with entrances on the north and west sides of the structure along the new Bates Street extension. The main structure entrance will be convertible, thus allowing multiple lanes into and out of the structure in the mornings and evenings when ingress and egress are concentrated and then allow shared access throughout the day. The height of the new structure will be compatible with that of adjoining buildings and have flat floor plates and ceiling heights of 11 feet to allow plenty of air and light into the structure. This will also allow for adaptive reuse of the structure in the future should the city’s needs change. Total parking on site will increase by 400 parking spaces over what exists today.
The existing North Old Woodward parking structure has frontage on North Old Woodward. Under the proposed plan, the structure has been set back from the frontage on Old Woodward by 70 feet in order to hide the structure from Old Woodward and will allow a new RH (Restoration Hardware) gallery story to be constructed on Old Woodward and serve as a buffer from the street to the structure. This 70-foot parcel is planned to be leased to the Woodward Bates Partners development team and constructed as a private component and is not part of the city bond proposal. Property taxes and lease payments will be paid to the city under this arrangement.
If the parking bond is approved in August, it is anticipated construction could begin as soon as November and contemplates approximately a 24-month construction schedule. This timeframe has been selected as construction costs continue to escalate and obtaining guaranteed pricing now will control project costs. Work would involve the demolition and reconstruction of the existing parking structure along with the extension of Bates Street. During this period, a comprehensive parking mitigation plan will be implemented offering multiple alternative parking solutions. These alternative solutions will include options such as off-site parking facilities, shuttle and trolley services to, from and within the downtown, additional valet stands, “drop & go” service opportunities, monthly bus pass discounts, rideshare service programs, and introduction of a parking app to assist users in making the commuting decisions that are most convenient for them. Ultimately, visitors and shoppers will continue to experience the opportunity to park downtown.
The Birmingham NOW (North Old Woodward) Project is a comprehensive plan. It adds parking capacity downtown and will not cost Birmingham taxpayers. For more information on this project, please visit the city’s website at bhamgov.org/birminghamnowproject for further details.
Be informed and vote on August 6th.
Joseph A. Valentine