Will downtown Beaufort get private parking garage?

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By Kat Walsh

Whether you’re a driver on Bay Street or a downtown developer, whether you’ve been in Beaufort for 30 minutes or 30 years, you know this to be true: Parking is an “issue.”

That fact was addressed in a recent meeting in which developer Dick Stewart shared plans with the public for a private parking garage with almost 500 spaces in downtown Beaufort.

The proposed 918 Craven Street Parking Garage, bordered by Port Republic, Charles and Craven streets, is an adjunct to the other projects Stewart’s 303 Associates has in development, namely a 75-room hotel on Port Republic and Scott streets and a 12-room addition to the Beaufort Inn.

While the proposed structure is not for pubic parking, Stewart made it clear that the need for public parking informed his plans.

“We are going to be flexible in doing things that makes sense for the general parking environment in the city,” he said, adding that it’s clear the city needs more parking places.

In fact, the city is asking for about $16 million as part of a penny sales tax referendum on November’s ballot to build a public parking garage.

Meanwhile, the crowd at the meeting on the private garage was mostly concerned about aesthetics.

A rendering that was displayed showed a three-story garage with alternating stucco and brickwork and long windows.

“It’s not the old gray ghost we all associate with a parking structure,” said Greg Darden of Structured Parking Solutions (SPS), the builder of the proposed garage.

But while the garage wouldn’t be as tall as other structures in town, the building is still, after all, a parking garage.

Many people in the audience qualified their comments with appreciation for Stewart’s concessions to make the structure as attractive as possible, but concern remained about the size of the structure.

State Rep. Kenneth Hodges, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church on Craven, expressed his concern about the height and mass of the structure. “This is huge and it covers our entire front.”

“Unfortunately, garages are an incredibly ugly thing to develop from a sight perspective,” said Darden.

“He is correct in telling you it isn’t pretty,” agreed Stewart. “But if anyone thinks a surface parking lot is attractive, let me take you for a walk.”

Mike Sutton, a merchant on Bay Street, pointed out that by providing parking spaces for Stewart’s current and future guests, the garage will “increase the other spots for the rest of us. This is a private garage, but, fortunately, it won’t be using your taxes to pay for it,” he said. “We need investments in projects like this. Please look at this as a win-win for everyone.”

Meanwhile, plans for the garage have been submitted to the city’s Historic Review Panel for conceptual approval. That panel has already offered some suggestions to Stewart to make the garage more palatable.

“There are a lot of details to be looked at. Right now, my view is that let’s take a wait-and-see approach,” said Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling.  “It really changes the character of Beaufort. Solving a parking need isn’t going to work for something that’s not going to fit downtown Beaufort. There’s a form and mass that has to be respected.”