After months of discussion, the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corp. voted Thursday to begin work on an estimated $400,000 upgrade of a downtown parking lot that has been blamed for flooding nearby developments during heavy rains.
Board members directed city staff to begin the process of finding a contractor who can design a new surface lot for the 78-car lot on King Street, subject to it being qualified as an "emergency purchase" by the city. If it qualifies as an emergency then that will allow city staff to speed up the request for proposal process and contact design firms directly who they think would be interested instead of waiting three or four weeks for outside bids.
Whomever they choose, CDRC board members asked that the firm incorporate a temporary solution in the first stage of the total redesign so developers of the six-story King Street storage building and Moxy hotel who have been affected by the lot's flooding during construction can finish their work.
Mike Kuebler with EMBARK Project Services LLC, the contractor for hotel developers Hiren Desai and Jimmy White, said at the meeting that he can't finish an electrical room because of the water streaming into the basement. He said they were discussing with city staff months ago about them fixing the parking lot, even before the developers closed on the property.
"Time is of the essence because it's impacting my construction schedule," Kuebler said. "We kind of relied on it being done. Whatever you all decide to do is impacting us and delaying our ability to finish the building."
City engineering staff said the total project cost could go up if going to design firms on an "emergency" basis, looking for the best design in the shortest amount of time. The total project has an estimated completion date of November with a temporary fix completed some time this summer.
Board members and staff were also interested in finding a quicker solution than November so the development could open and contribute to the city's tax rolls.
The CDRC, the city agency that owns and develops a number of downtown properties, had been deciding between a $70,000 temporary solution or the $400,000 long-term fix that would also make it a market-rate lot open to the public for parking on nights and weekends and bring in extra revenue to the city. Board members were not keen on the idea of approving a temporary fix for $70,000 not knowing how much of that money would go to waste when a contractor was selected for the permanent one.
The CDRC initially decided last April to sell the city's King Street parking lot to developers Desai and White. But in January, the administration of Mayor Andy Berke changed its mind and decided not to sell the parking lot after coming under fire for such a sale by Accountability for Taxpayer Money (ACT).
Helen Burns Sharp, founder and head of ACT, charged last year that the city was preparing to accept a $134,700 offer from Desai and White for the parking lot even though the city paid $195,000 a decade earlier for the lot and other Southside properties have since steadily increased in value. The developers ultimately dropped their offer and the city decided against selling the property.
On Thursday, Sharp said she doesn't believe the city should be paying so much money to fix a lot. The projected $400,000 lot would require the city to spend more than $5,000 per parking space.
"With all the needs in the city is this really where we need to spend the money?" Sharp asked.
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at email@example.com, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.