DeVito asks CAPC to fund parking garage downtown

Friday, June 23, 2017

When it comes to the idea of building a new parking garage in downtown Eureka Springs, the City Advertising and Promotion Commission is taking it slow.

Former commissioner James DeVito presented a proposal to the commission on Wednesday, June 14, saying the lack of parking has been the biggest complaint the city has received over the years. DeVito said the city has been fielding these complaints since 1972, when a discussion began about building a parking garage in town.

“I think it’s high time, given a number of reasons, that we address this important issue today,” DeVito said.

In 1995, he said, there was a proposal to build a parking garage at the corner of Mountain Street and Center Street. That plan was never executed, he said.

“Unfortunately, there were a lot of issues with congestion,” DeVito said. “That was not a really good area. The community as a whole did not agree to this parking garage.”

DeVito said tourists used to come to town in buses but now travel in their own vehicles. This change, DeVito said, has made it even more important that the city have adequate parking.

“They are no longer coming by buses. They are now coming by SUVs,” DeVito said. “The need for parking is exacerbated in today’s environment.”

Chairman Ken Ketelsen said he agreed that parking is important.

“There’s not 50 percent of weekends that are busy that I don’t see the exact thing you’re speaking about,” Ketelsen said. “There is not enough parking in Eureka Springs. If we’re looking for a new attraction, I think you’re on to something.”

DeVito said the commission makes the parking problem even worse by targeting all its advertising to weekend travelers.

“I understand why we do that. The biggest blues festival weekend we had, we could hardly get a Thursday night show to perform to standards,” DeVito said. “That is the issue here, that as we continue to promote the community and as we continue to promote our

festival, we’re bringing more and more people here on the weekends and they’re having a less than pleasurable experience.”

He added, “Have we reached the point of diminishing returns?”

Commissioner David Mitchell said those in the private sector haven’t pursued building a parking garage downtown.

“John Cross definitely knows an opportunity when he sees it, and he hasn’t built a garage yet,” Mitchell said. “I’m just wondering why there hasn’t been interest from private people to build a garage.”

DeVito said cities are usually responsible for building parking garages, saying this is true in Bentonville and Fayetteville.

Commissioner Susan Harman said she’d love to see a parking garage downtown but didn’t know how the commission would fund it.

“Who’s going to pay for it, and will there be a return?” Harman said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees that there is a need for a parking garage downtown. It really comes down to the finances.”

Harman asked DeVito if the commission would be able to receive a bond to build the parking garage, and DeVito said that’s definitely possible. DeVito said the parking garage would generate a revenue stream allowing the commission to make the bond payments.

“Since there’s no encumbrances on the revenue stream of the A&P right now, I’m sure it would be well under the qualifications to be bonded,” DeVito said.

“I would like to see some information, and if that’s a process we decide we want to go through, I would like to see what the requirements would be,” Harman said. “

DeVito asked if the commission would appoint him as an ex-officio commissioner so he could look into that.

“We haven’t even decided if everyone agrees to go to the next step,” Harman said.

DeVito said he thought it was important to start working on getting a parking garage in town as soon as possible.

“This is an important topic, and remember, commissioners, you incorporated the parking garage into your proposal as recently as last year when we were talking about the city sales tax,” DeVito said.

“Correction, James, you did that,” commissioner Terry McClung said.

“No, I’m sorry, there was a vote and we incorporated it into the working document presented to the city,” DeVito said. “I did not do that by myself.”

Director Mike Maloney recommended that the commission look into what it would take to get a parking garage downtown, including the process of getting a bond to build it. DeVito thanked the commission for its time.

“Don’t forget. This is an issue we’ve been dealing with for 45 years, and this is the only body that has any ability to do anything about it,” DeVito said.

Also at the meeting, finance director Rick Bright said he’s been having trouble finding volunteers for shows at The Auditorium.

“You can’t run a 1,000-seat theater with no staff. If the community doesn’t step up and volunteer, we can’t put on shows,” Bright said.

He pointed out that non-profits can rent The Auditorium at a pretty low price. With that in mind, Bright said, it might be a good idea to ask non-profits renting the building to provide volunteers.

“We already lose $200,000 a year on it. We can’t hire staff. We’d be that much more in the hole,” Bright said.

Bright moved on to present the financial report, saying the cash balance as of May 31 was $399,875.39. He listed tax collections remitted in May, from April collections. He said restaurants brought in $52,231, down $8,716 (14.1 percent). Total lodging collections were $55,370, down $4,005 (6.8 percent). These lodging collections include: $11,185 for hotels, down $1,270 (10.2 percent); $26,694 for motels, down $3,579 (11.8 percent); $5,272 for B&Bs, down $1,080 (17 percent); and $12,219 for cabins and cottages, up $1,924 (18.7 percent). Bright said the year-to-date lodging collections compared with 2016 are down $6,676 (3.3 percent) and the year-to-date restaurant collections compared with 2016 are down $4,973 (2.3 percent). The year-to-date total collections, he said, are down $11,650 (2.8 percent).

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 12, at City Hall.

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