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Vehicles sit parked on the old Vance Hotel parking deck on Thursday.

What to do with the parking lot behind the old Vance Hotel was once again a topic of discussion by the Statesville City Council.

Councilwoman Doris Allison brought the proposed parking deck back to Statesville City Council’s agenda Monday.

Allison had voted against the project in May. With her flipped vote, the deck has now been approved. The way to fund it, however, will have to be approved in a later vote.

Second bite at the apple

The day of the meeting, City Attorney Leah Messick received confirmation from the University of North Carolina School of Government that as long as a topic was on the agenda, a new motion could be made on it.

Staff presented the proposed deck and funding options again.

City Engineer Scott Harrell also presented options for surface parking, one of which was a parking lot with 120 spaces that would cost $1 million.

Michael Johnson said there was hidden expense in the surface lot adjacent to the Civic Center. Managing the storm water from the site would be expensive because the land near the Civic Center is contaminated with gasoline from tanks left there by a gas station on the property in the past.

“We’re willing to sacrifice where we are and what we have tested for what we don’t know,” Michael Johnson said.

He added that the deck would have a 40-50 year lifespan while a parking lot beside the Civic Center would be built on top when the city decided to expand the Civic Center.

Michael Johnson also pointed out that the proposed deck would be closer to the main strip of downtown than a parking lot beside the Civic Center.

“You don’t design for everyday traffic,” Michael Johnson said. “You design for peak.”

Johnson said the ruling on the parking deck wasn’t a snap decision, but one made while observing the growing number of hotel rooms in Statesville and considering the Larkin project.

“There comes a point where you have to invest capital,” Michael Johnson said. “You can’t save your way to profit.”

Disagreement déjà vu

Councilman John Staford asked Michael Johnson and West to recuse themselves from the vote because their property would be financially impacted.

Messick said many people would be positively impacted by the project, so the two council members didn’t need to recuse themselves.

As Michael Johnson had claimed when voting not to build the parking deck in the May meeting, Staford said building the deck would be the beginning of the end for the Vance Hotel.

The parking deck “is a ridiculous idea,” Staford said. “It is a waste of taxpayer dollars. If you want to have an expansion of the Civic Center, you’ve just depleted the fund for the expansion of that Civic Center to build a parking deck, so you don’t even need to worry about expanding that Civic Center.”

“You build this parking deck, you demolish the Vance,” Staford said.

He said a developer interested in restoring the Vance Hotel would no longer be interested if the parking deck was built.

After the meeting, Staford said the developer wanted to purchase the hotel for $750,000 without city funding from the general fund.

He added that the developer would have received some compensation from the Occupancy Tax Fund.

Steve Johnson called for a needs assessment to figure out exactly what the Civic Center and downtown needed.

Financing hiccup

After the dust settled, the parking deck was approved with a 5-2 vote. Morgan, voted against West, Allison and Michael Johnson voted for it. Jap Johnson and Steven Johnson cast the votes against it. Staford changed his vote to an affirmative one after the majority was clear.

After the meeting, Staford explained under the Robert’s Rules of Order, which the council used to abide by, only a council member who voted with the majority vote can ask for a topic to return to the agenda.

He said he wanted to make sure he could address the parking deck again if he needed to, depending on what rules council decides to follow in the future.

At the end of the meeting, City Manager Ron Smith said a public hearing would have to be held to receive outside funding for the parking deck. That is a requirement of the Local Government Council, which has to approve such loans.

Michael Johnson suggested the funds be borrowed from another internal fund like the electric instead of borrowed because Local Government Council doesn’t have to approve that.

“I’m not doing that (holding a public hearing for financing),” Michael Johnson said. “That’s another bite at the apple. That’s wrong.”

However, a vote to approve the funding will have to be held at the next meeting Oct. 21.

Agreed upon need

No one on council argued that parking was not needed downtown. The argument was related to whether that parking should be supplied via a deck behind Vance Hotel or surface parking beside the Civic Center.

The Civic Center had 117 days where it didn’t have enough parking for events taking place in the last year.

In some cases, it has lost business because of it. In April 2018, there were two small meetings being held in the building as well as a luncheon for a non-profit. The non-profit expected 300 guests, and when people couldn’t find parking, they simply left.

The nonprofit found a new place to host its luncheon this year, and parking was a large reason why.

The May vote

In May, council tied on a motion to build a parking deck behind Vance Hotel, and Mayor Costi Kutteh broke the tie, voting against the motion.

Only one company, Simcon Company, LLC, bid on the project with a $4.55 million price tag. Staff, Simcon and the design team, McGill Associates, were able to whittle the price down to $3.8 million. Building the deck will cost $3.24 million. Installing an elevator, which is required, will cost $180,000, and additional costs including inspections will total $380,000.

Staff provided three options for funding. Council could decide to use the Occupancy Tax Fund and part of the Civic Center Fund and cover the remaining cost with loans; use all of the Occupancy Tax Fund and cover the rest with loans; or cover the entire project with loans.

However, any financing outside of city funds would have to be approved by the Local Government Commission because the project is improving property.

The deck would add 79 parking spaces.

Councilman Michael Johnson said without the parking deck, the Vance Hotel was as good as demolished, and a deck would support the expansion of the Civic Center in the future.

Michael Johnson made a motion to build the parking deck and finance it with the Occupancy Tax Fund, the Civic Center Fund and loans.

Council members Michael Johnson, William Morgan, Roy West and Keith Williams voted for the motion. Council members Steven Johnson, John Staford, Doris Allison and C.O. “Jap” Johnson voted against it. Kutteh broke the tie against it.

Kutteh said everyone could agree downtown Statesville needed more parking. However, because the Civic Center has other needs like a new roof and HVAC system, he was wary of taking all of the available funds from the Occupancy Tax Fund.

Staford said the deck was too expensive and asked staff to consider surface parking on the property around the Civic Center.

Staford made a motion for city staff to research alternative surface parking. Staford, Steve Johnson, Allison and Jap Johnson voted for the motion. Michael Johnson, Morgan, West and Williams voted against it. Kutteh broke the tie for the motion.

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