The new owner of the St. Clair Street parking garage said Tuesday that he hopes to reopen it within three months.
Mike Templeman, a retired coal executive who ran for Congress in 2010, purchased the garage from the city in March with a $51,000 bid. He has since been renovating the facility, which cost the city losses of $50,000 each year and only averaged 40 percent capacity when it closed in 2007.
“It will be put back to the way it was when it was new, except better,” Templeman said.
Templeman said he couldn’t estimate how much he would spend in total on the renovations, saying only that he had invested “hundreds of thousands of dollars” already and expected to spend hundreds of thousands more.
Whatever the case, Templeman’s renovations seem to be costing less than the city’s $2.57 million estimate in 2007 to repair the garage and bring it up to secure, modern standards. Also, if the garage opens in three months, it will be far before the deadline of Sept. 30, 2013, that the city placed on Templeman as part of the sale agreement.
“An individual can revitalize property much easier than a government can,” Templeman said.
The prospective reopening of the garage comes after years of attempts by the city to solve the problem, including proposals to demolish the building and for the city and county to jointly own and fund its renovation. This year, the city discussed starting private bidding for the property at $1, before deciding on a minimum of $25,000.
Meanwhile, worries over parking have proliferated, especially with the Franklin County Court House’s impending return downtown from its temporary location in West Frankfort. The new Franklin County Judicial Center is set to open on Aug. 16 of next year, according to county Planning Director Robert Hewitt, so the garage should be open well in advance.
The garage will contain 170 spaces, 35 of which Templeman must set aside for the judicial center as part of the sale agreement. That’s roughly the same number of spaces the county paid for when the garage closed five years ago. Franklin County Judge-Executive Ted Collins said the center will receive the spaces free. They were part of an incentive the city used to lure the center to St. Clair Street, he said.
Collins and Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd will decide the allocation of the spaces, and Collins said he envisions them being set aside for jurors, not court employees.
Templeman plans to offer the other 135 spaces for monthly rates at first, but doesn’t know if that policy will hold. He said he hasn’t chosen a company to run the garage yet and thus cannot estimate rates.
Templeman is free to use the first story of the garage for commercial development. He said that space is the key to making a profit from his major investment in the garage renovations, and said he had some ideas for what to do with the space but declined to share them. Several commercial enterprises occupied the space before the garage closed.
“There is no sense in getting the commercial space open until the garage is open,” Templeman said.
He said the judicial center opening could also help spur business.
As for changes to the garage itself, which was built in 1976, Templeman is painting and installing energy-efficient, glare-resistant induction lighting throughout the structure, which was once derided as dark and unsafe. Sensor cards will be used to access the garage, meaning that patrons won’t have to swipe to get through the gates.
Workers are taking down the wooden canopy outside the building, which was erected partly to safeguard pedestrians from falling pieces of brick from the building’s crumbling façade. Templeman said workers have repaired and put three coats of sealant on the brick.
Interim City Manager Walter Wilhoite said he is pleased with the progress on renovations. Wilhoite said the city would like for the parking garage to attract owners and employees downtown to move them out of the free two-hour, on-street parking spaces, thus making more room for customers to park there.
Currently, several owners downtown said they play a game of musical chairs with their vehicles, moving them every two hours so as not to receive a ticket. Wilhoite, who is also the police chief, said the city will more stringently enforce the two-hour parking limit once the garage is finished.
Though many complain about lack of parking downtown, Wilhoite said that the only other parking garage that is currently open operates only at an average 60-70 percent capacity. He said some people just don’t like to park in garages, adding that’s why he hopes workers will use the St. Clair garage. He said this won’t completely remedy the parking problem. Much depends on what sort of businesses move downtown in the future.
“Parking will always be a concern, and it will always have to be something that will have to be tweaked,” he said.
Ann Wingrove, the owner of Completely Kentucky who has been on Broadway for 24 years, said she has come to work all these years and has always been able to find a space. But, she said the garage will be useful if businesses return to the many abandoned structures downtown. She suggested the city should then make changes to the two-hour parking rules, such as three-hour zone parking for customers.
“You know who should park in the garages? It’s not the visitors, it’s not the customers, it’s the employees,” Wingrove said. That was the original plan for the garage when it was built on a site formerly occupied by a dime store.
Templeman said he sees promise in a downtown revitalization, and expects the garage to help.
“That’s the reason I bought that property,” he said.