A second chance

Can new owner make failed garage succeed?

Published:

Give Mike Templeman credit for trying to resuscitate a downtown venture that flopped under city ownership with public/private investment. The downtown revitalization movement is known for good intentions that failed, and he seems determined to turn the tide.

The retired coal executive and one-time congressional candidate paid $51,500 for the St. Clair Street parking garage, which the city closed in 2007 because it was underused and rapidly deteriorating. The deal calls for him to bring it up to code by Sept. 30, 2013, and keep it operating as a garage for at least 10 years. He’s started the rehabilitation work and told State Journal reporter Ryan Quinn he plans to reopen the facility within three months.

Nearly 40 years ago, City Hall and downtown merchants envisioned the St. Clair Street Mall and parking garage as key elements in restoring the vitality of a central business district that was steadily losing retail business to the suburbs. Cities battling this trend saw pedestrian malls as a way to bring a bit of suburban ambience to the center of town. Frankfort and others, after trying out the idea for decades, came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t working. So the city reopened one lane to vehicular traffic on the block of St. Clair that had been turned into a mall.

The garage was built on the site of Frankfort’s last dime store, destroyed by fire. It was intended primarily as a place for downtown workers to park, leaving on-street spaces for shoppers, but ended up less than half full most of the time. The simple truth is that lots of us go out of our way to avoid parking in one of those concrete hutches. Workers generally kept their cars on the street, playing cat and mouse with ticket writers, and shoppers were loath to use the garage even when merchants offered reimbursement of parking fees.

Templeman is starting out at a bit of a disadvantage because county government made a deal to get 35 free spaces in the refurbished garage as an incentive to construct the $30 million Franklin County Judicial Center on St. Clair Street. Judge-Executive Ted Collins prefers that the spaces be reserved for jurors, but a final decision has not been made. Remaining are 135 spaces on which the new owner hopes to make some money. His immediate plan, subject to change, is to charge monthly rates. To make the atmosphere less forbidding, he’s painting the interior and installing glare-resistant lighting.

Will motorists respond? The history of downtown parking is not encouraging. The St. Clair garage had just a 40 percent occupancy rate and the newer Sullivan Square garage on West Main Street is running about 60-70 percent, according to interim City Manager Walter Wilhoite, who also serves as police chief and plans to enforce on-street parking regulations more stringently once the St. Clair garage reopens.

The crying need downtown isn’t so much for parking as for more business attractions that might increase the demand. In that respect, a parking shortage would be welcome. Templeman hopes to boost patronage with commercial space on the ground floor of the garage. Among previous occupants of that area were a Subway shop and an office supply store, appropriate for a district where office workers predominate, but hardly enthralling to the general public.

Downtown can’t compete with big retailers on the edge of town. But if it can stimulate more commercial growth that serves close-in residents, commuters, tourists and the occasional suburbanite, the parking garage might have a shot at success, after all.

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  • bjos...first you say "we need more business attractions", then you say "I don't care if a single isolated event brings people downtown". Which is it? Never mind I forgot you don't want to get "sucked" into a debate. A community is only as good as the people who live there make it. I think we have done a good job. I am sorry you are not happy here.

  • So, you'd get rid of a very important rail route through Central KY that provides for a LOT of economically significant commerce(i.e. the aluminum recycling trains and other important commerce) just because you think it makes downtown "ugly"? You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but my OPINION of your opinion is that it is misguided and shortsighted. I might also mention the fact that the railroad has been here a whole lot longer than you or I either one have, and the railroad is the major reason why that area of Broadway was(at one time) the major commercial center of town. In other words, if it weren't for the railroad, downtown wouldn't exist as it does today.

  • You understand exactly what I'm saying; you just don't agree. Say what you really mean.------As to what I'd do about it (if it were up to me): I'd get rid of it. Plain and simple.-----I don't care if a single, isolated event brings people downtown; that's not what the article is about.------I just stated my opinion. You are free to agree or disagree as the case may be. But I do not have to justify or defend my opinion, nor do I have to come up with solutions.

  • Bjos, You comment on the "ugly" train...I'm not sure I quite understand why this is a problem. For sure, it hasn't been in Midway. If you do think it's a problem, I'm curious as to just what exactly you'd propose doing about it? I might also add that probably the most packed I've seen downtown in recent years has been when there has been some event related to the "ugly train" such as when RJ Corman has brought their steam locomotive through downtown.

  • Putting all government buildings downtown KILLS the tourist industry. We need a more diversified workforce downtown. We need more shops and restaurants but too many government buildings downtown. Our elected officials continually harp about keeping government offices downtown. By doing so, you can roll the sidewalk up at 4:30 pm. To prove my point, with the thousands of workers downtown, every restaurant should be packed full of patronsafter 4:30pm. But they are not. Parking should be impossible after 4:30 but its plentiful. The only way the Templeman parking garage will succeed is with Government renting most if not all of the available parking spots. This smells fishy. How can a private citizen repair a facility that city government hired experts estimate at $2,000,000 for a few hundred thousand dollars and do it on a ridiculously fast timeline. There are many questions to be asked, I hope the SJ asks them. If they don't I hope the City Commissioners and our new Mayor ask them.

  • whatever, I'm not getting sucked into a debate with you.

  • whatever, I'm not getting sucked into a debate with you.

  • Wasn't trying to start anything just expressing MY opinion. If you want to help fix the problems you say we have here maybe you need to go to a few townhall meetings and express ideas that you may have to "fix" our little community.

  • If you take time and go through the downtown area you will see the quaint little shops and restaurants.".......That's just it, tourists are not going to take the time to search out all the "quaint little shops and restaurants"---but even if they did, they'd find them ridiculously overpriced, just like the homes here in Frankfort. All the tourists are going to see is the old, dingy buildings,inconvenient parking, etc........."If you want loud and crowded just go to Lexington or Louisville."....That statement is unnecessarily defensive and antagonistic. I never said I wanted loud and crowded, or even big.......I bet you also tell anyone who has any type of problem with the US to "love it or leave it" instead of trying to address and fix the problem.

  • I'm with you, ukfan -- I LIKE Frankfort. I've tried moving away a couple times but keep coming back. For all people's rantings, Frankfort is a decent little town. Perfect? Heck no. Good enough? Heck yes.

  • I for one love our town. I think it has a lot of character and history. If you take time and go through the downtown area you will see the quaint little shops and restaurants. Frankfort has never claimed to be a big metropolis but a small town community. If you want big, loud and crowded just go to Lexington or Lousiville.

  • "The crying need downtown isn’t so much for parking as for more business attractions that might increase the demand." This is exactly the problem. All I see are expensive specialty shops and dingy buildings. I'm sure there must be more than that downtown, but as a person who drives through and doesn't know the ins and outs of where everything is, that's all I see. And if that's all I see, then that's all most people, especially toursists, see. And it's not inviting at all. Especially combined with the narrow one-way streets, inconvenient parking, and that ugly train right in the middle of the road.