Sep. 26—The city would build a $6 million parking deck in downtown Decatur as part of an agreement for a new hotel, and the deck would be partially paid for by diverting a portion of lodging tax revenues and implementing paid parking through much of downtown, city officials said.
The parking deck would be adjacent to a planned 80-room hotel at the southwest corner of Second Avenue and East Moulton Street. The hotel project was announced last week and includes local developers Jack Fite and H.M. Nowlin with partner Chris Chavis.
Mayor Tab Bowling told The Decatur Daily editorial board last week that Chavis chose the downtown spot during a tour of potential properties, but said, "'We're going to need a parking deck. Will y'all build the parking deck for us?'"
Bowling said he agreed to support construction of the deck on an existing city parking lot across East Moulton Street from The Brick restaurant because it would not only help the hotel but also meet the city's needs. The City Council still must approve the proposals to fund and build a parking deck and give the developers a pocket park and an alley for their hotel, which will primarily use vacant property where C.F. Penn Hamburgers and other businesses were formerly located.
"We know the energy that this hotel would bring to the downtown area," Bowling said.
The mayor said the proposal is to build a 240-space, four-story parking deck. He said the hope is to construct the parking deck and hotel simultaneously and have them complete in 16 months.
Construction of the deck would be financed as part of a planned $20 million bond issue that also would pay for the proposed $8 million Sixth Avenue streetscape and other projects. With interest payments, the total borrowing cost for the parking deck would be $7.7 million, according to the city.
Bowling said the entrance to the deck would be off First Avenue Southeast, and the hotel would have an entrance off the second floor. The deck would reserve 90 parking spots for hotel guests.
The mayor said the city would then begin charging $2 an hour, from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. seven days a week, or $56 a month, for parking not only in the deck but also along Second Avenue and East Moulton Street. Instead of meters, parkers would make payments through a mobile app, or a kiosk if they didn't have a smartphone.
"Enforcement would be outsourced to a private company so that load is not on Decatur police," Bowling said.
Bowling said he believes people are willing to pay for parking "instead of playing bumper cars every day to find a parking spot." He also said public parking spots on Second Avenue and East Moulton Street are 90% occupied during much of the day.
City Chief Financial Officer Kyle Demeester said the annual payment to cover the parking deck's portion of the bond issue would be about $385,000 over 20 years.
Bowling proposes using the lodging taxes and the $2 per room tax generated by the new hotel to help pay for the parking deck.
Demeester estimated that based on existing hotels in the city, an 80-room hotel would generate $234,375 annually in those taxes. The city would normally keep about one-third of that revenue, or $77,605, with the other $156,770 allocated to Decatur Morgan Tourism and the Hospitality Board.
Tourism balked in recent years at council members' attempts to cap its share of lodging tax revenues, particularly as they grew to $1 million annually.
However, Bowling met with Tourism Executive Director Danielle Gibson and Tourism board Chairman Wade Weaver recently and said both are supportive of allowing the city to use a portion of their allocation for a parking deck.
"We hoped our partners would see (the overall concept) and how the stay in the city would also benefit them," Bowling said.
Gibson and Weaver confirmed Friday that they support Bowling's plan for using a portion of what is usually the bureau's funding. The proposal is based on anticipated revenues at the new hotel so Gibson said she believes she won't see a drop in her funding.
"A new hotel downtown is a great addition so we're proud to partner with the city to make it happen," Gibson said.
Weaver said the city needs more hotels to support soccer and fishing tournaments here. He said the USA Archery tournament in July filled up all of the city's hotels, and the hotel rooms disappear quickly when some of the small conferences are held in the city.
"We need hotel rooms so they won't go to other cities," Weaver said.
Bowling said all that Gibson and Weaver asked for in return was an assurance to stabilize their funding. Instead of a year-to-year agreement, Bowling said, the tourism bureau would like at least an agreement on the lodging tax split that coincides with the City Council's four-year terms.
Bowling said he also met with Hospitality Association Board president Scott Suenaga and got his support. Suenaga refused to comment.
The city and Morgan County Commission talked in the past about the possibility of partnering on a parking deck near the county courthouse and Decatur City Hall. The two commissioned a parking study, but Bowling said the study wasn't completed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ladner said he would like for the city to talk to the county about becoming a partner in this project, but Commission Chairman Ray Long said the proposed deck is too far away from the Morgan County Courthouse for the county to be interested.
"That wouldn't help my parking," Long said.
Rick Paler, executive director of the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority, said he wasn't aware of the proposed parking deck but understands why the city wants to build one.
"Plans change and all of a sudden we have a different priority because of a new project," Paler said.
Councilman Carlton McMasters said he thinks the hotel will be a catalyst for downtown restaurants and businesses. He said charging for downtown parking to pay for the deck "is necessary," and he pointed out that other cities like Florence and Huntsville charge for downtown parking.
"People want to be able to park close to wherever they're going," McMasters said.
Ladner pointed out that the hotel and parking deck will be next door to the Alabama Center for the Arts dorm that the Alabama Community College System is planning at the corner of Johnston Street Southeast and First Avenue.
"It's really a perfect storm for that corner of downtown," Ladner said. "I think a parking deck would fit right in with the plans in that area."
— firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.