After years of discussion, Marietta could finally be taking the first steps toward building a new multistory parking deck near the Square.
The city will discuss partnering with the Downtown Marietta Development Authority to buy the parking lot on Mill Street near the Starbucks from the state. The DMDA leases the about 80-space lot from the state.
Mayor Steve Tumlin added the item to the agenda Monday evening for the City Council’s July 2 meeting.
Speaking to the MDJ on Tuesday, Tumlin said details on a future deck such as the price, number of spots and size have yet to be refined, but he feels the location is ideal for a parking deck.
“A deck is coming one way or the other, and this would be the prime location, I think,” he said. “There’s a general consensus that it would be the best spot for one to go up. It wouldn’t block the view of the mountain, and it’s been used for parking for years. I think it would be very compatible with the Square to have a multi-story deck there.”
In the past, the city has discussed floating bonds to pay for downtown parking, but Tumlin said he thinks the project could be funded by a 2022 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which would need to be approved by voters.
“By using SPLOST, I think we can keep the rate very, very low, where I don’t think we could using general fund money,” he said. “That’s why I would always bring up parking meters. We’d need parking meters to get a revenue bond. With a revenue bond, you’ve got to have revenue, so you’ve got to charge to park. But if we get a SPLOST, we don’t have to recover the cost like we would with a revenue bond or using the general fund.”
Tumlin said he doesn’t think parking in the new deck could be free, but it could be significantly less than the rates charged by the county decks.
Tumlin said he got the idea to use SPLOST revenues to fund the deck from Smyrna, whose preliminary five-year SPLOST list includes $4.5 million for a downtown parking deck.
“I stole the idea from Smyrna,” he said with a laugh. “I never thought of the idea of a SPLOST building a deck, but a SPLOST is made for special things that make a city great.”
Downtown parking discussions have been going on in Marietta for decades. In 2009, for example, the DMDA proposed building a multistory parking deck off Mill Street with a $4 million to $5 million price tag, but then-Mayor Bill Dunaway opposed it.
In 2015, Tumlin proposed building a multipurpose parking deck off Mill Street that would include office space for nonprofit organizations on its first floor and an open green space on the deck’s top floor. The deck would also be designed to resemble a building with “historic flair” rather than a typical solid gray parking deck.
A similar item came up in 2018, shortly after the county announced it would end free parking on nights and weekends at its downtown decks.
Last month, Cobb County officially turned over operations of its two downtown parking decks to a private company after losing money operating the decks.
Tumlin said not taking action on parking is no longer an option.
“It’s imperative now. Almost every storefront is full. We added this brand new area here with 17 new restaurants, and parking is at a premium,” he said, pointing at the nearby Marietta Square Market. “The deck is not working well for the county. There’s so many factors and there’s just not enough parking. We’re almost in a crisis. The time is right to do it, and to have a nice one.”
Tom Browning, chair of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, said he is glad to see the city moving on this matter.
“I have been advocating building a deck over there for 15 years,” he said. “I am excited. We need it. The community in downtown Marietta needs more spaces for customers to park their cars, and that’s one way of doing it. Plus, if you think about it, all the employees that work at the Square, all the restaurant and retail employees, they need a reliable place they can park. Having a deck there would open up more space on the street for people to park in surface parking.”
Tumlin said this time, rather than start with a fancy proposal, he wants to start simple and leave the design to others.
“I have put a lot of Christmas tree items when I brought something forward,” he said with a laugh. “But, I think, now we want to start with something basic and the council will do that kind of thing. We want it to be more than just a deck, to make it special. There are a lot of ways to do that and I hope that’s what we do.”
Tumlin said whatever the final product looks like, it’s important that it match the architectural and historic character of the rest of the Square. He floated the idea of modeling it after the design of the nearby Brumby Lofts.