Fayetteville commission mulls parking lot’s future

Posted: October 29, 2017 at 1:04 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/STACY RYBURN Part of the parking lot next to the E.J. Ball building near Meadow Street and Church Avenue in Fayetteville. The building is being renovated and the parking lot is certainly due for one too, said Sarah King, spokeswoman with Specialized Real Estate Group. That company and Moses Tucker Real Estate of Little Rock bought the building for $3.1 million last year.

FAYETTEVILLE — The parking lot next to the E.J. Ball building will likely either get an upgrade or have something built on it within the next few years, according to the commission that owns it.

The Off-Street Parking Commission, created in 1976, owns three lots downtown with a total of 226 spaces. The commission, a quasi-governmental entity, was formed as part of a development district to build a parking garage, which eventually became the Town Center parking garage.

The Off-Street Parking Commission owns three lots with a total of 226 spaces in downtown Fayetteville. They're shown in blue.

The city manages the commission’s three lots, collecting the money, enforcing the rules and making small fixes such as keeping meters up to date. The commission and the city split the revenue.

The E.J. Ball lot, which runs along Church Avenue between Center and Meadow streets, is the largest. The commission also owns a smaller lot southwest of that one and another on Spring Street between Block and East avenues.

Lamar Pettus, commission chairman, said developers have eyed the E.J. Ball lot for the past 20 years for multiple purposes, including retail, a parking deck, office space and condos.

City officials last year brought the commission a preliminary plan to resurface the lots, put in spaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and make drive aisles meet modern-day standards. In turn, the commission agreed to pay for the improvement to the tune of about $570,000. The commission has about $821,500 in the bank.

The commission has considered turning over the lots to the city as long as the money would go to downtown parking improvements and not the city’s general fund Pettus said

Consulting firm Nelson/ Nygaard has been working on a parking and mobility study the City Council wants to adopt as a comprehensive plan. City officials advised the commission to hold off on doing anything to the lots until the full study is published and approved, which should happen by the end of the year.

Pettus said in one scenario the commission likely would put out bids to do the improvement work by the end of 2018 and have the work finished by the end of 2019.

The commission would consider proposals for development in another scenario. Commissioners could work out a long-term lease, form a joint venture or sell the lot outright, Pettus said.

“At some point, if such a proposal is ever made and it appears it would be acceptable to the Off-Street Parking Commission, we would have to get legal opinions to make sure that we’re on sound grounds,” Pettus said.

He said the commission’s goal should be to keep the same number of parking spaces. Also, in Pettus’ opinion, any deal should include a provision that would keep open the possibility of more parking spaces over time.

Part of the parking study, posted on the city’s website in August, indicates there are more parking spaces than needed in the area where the commission’s three lots sit.

The study focused on downtown parking along Center Street and several adjacent streets. The current parking supply would adequately serve future development, according to its findings.

The Center Street focus area includes 2,007 spaces. Peter Nierengarten, the city’s director of sustainability and parking, said the study took into account all parking regardless of ownership. City officials want to negotiate with private parking owners to make more spaces available to the public as part of the plan. If the commission opts not to open the E.J. Ball lot for development, the city would strongly back the plan to improve it, Nierengarten said. The grading and lack of compliant handicap spaces there present challenges.

Nierengarten said it was definitely in need of renovation. Prominent downtown businesses flank the E.J. Ball lot, such as Hugo’s, Block Street Records, French Quarters Antiques and Houndstooth Clothing. The E.J. Ball building, at 112 W. Center St., has about 20 tenants on its seven floors and basement, including Alchemy Macarons, Fresco Restaurant and Cocktails, Metova and several law firms and offices.

The building is being renovated and the parking lot is certainly due for one too, said Sarah King, spokeswoman with Specialized Real Estate Group. That company and Moses Tucker Real Estate of Little Rock bought the building for $3.1 million last year.

King, looking out her window Friday afternoon at the company’s office on Church Avenue, said the parking lot looked about half full. She was glad the chain surrounding the lot has been removed because people used to trip on it. “I think a change is needed no matter what that looks like, because you know, it’s kind of a mess,” she said.

Jamie Moses of Moses Tucker said the spot seems ripe for development. The owners of the building certainly would take an interest in whatever the commission decides, he said. “We’d like to, whether it’s us or someone else, just make sure it’s a good development,” Moses said. “I really think there could be a fit for a residential-type project, or mixed-use with a residential component. All the amenities are there.”

Parking master plan

To see the progress of the city’s parking master plan, go to: bit.ly/fayparkingmasterplan

Stacy Ryburn can be reached by email at sryburn@nwadg.com or on Twitter @stacyryburn.