City officials say the opportunity to build a new parking deck designed to lure visitors to the Strip isn't the most important part of their plan, but it's clearly a giant incentive. In exchange for letting the hospital demolish the buildings it owns in the historic overlay, the city will receive a lot that Covenant owns on the corner of 19th Street and White Avenue, either at a very low cost or in return for a set number of designated spaces for hospital employees—chief policy officer Bill Lyons isn't yet sure, he recently told the News Sentinel.
"This would be a garage that we see as very much benefiting the merchants on Cumberland and those who would come, as Cumberland is redone, and walk to the various shops and so forth," Lyons says. "Our model is that it would be somewhat like—it's not identical—but somewhat like downtown, with hopefully free nights and weekends, and that would support all of what we hope will happen and be a real vibrant commercial district."
Anne Wallace, the Cumberland Avenue project manager, says discussion of a parking deck has been around since at least 2007. In 2008, MPC and the city issued a parking study for the corridor. At the time, 80 percent of merchants surveyed said they would support a "shared parking arrangement" for their employees and customers.
One of the long-term recommendations from the study was, "Construct additional parking supply when peak parking demand exceeds 80 percent in the District." According to Amy Brooks at the Transportation Planning Organization, peak parking demand was at 89 percent in 2007, but no follow-up studies have been conducted.
Wallace says she is consistently hearing from merchants about the need for a parking deck. Still, the location raises questions—like whether Fort Sanders residents will ever use it.
"The parking garage that the city and Covenant will get does not help the neighborhood," Fort Sanders resident Randall De Ford says. "That doesn't mean it's not necessary for the Strip. The Strip wins, and certainly the Strip needs a win. But it doesn't help the neighborhood. It's not going to take any pressure off parking. I think what will happen is that parking garage will probably be well-utilized by Covenant and Children's during the day and Cumberland activities at night."
Wallace confirms that at least 100 spaces out of around 800 will be set aside for Covenant monthly permits.
"But it's primarily to support merchants," Wallace insists. "And taking the pressure off short-term parking will take pressure off some of the street parking in the Fort."
When asked if any other location would work, even if it cost the city more money, Lyons demurred.
"That's clearly, in terms of proximity to Cumberland, the ideal place," Lyons says.