The plans for the State Street Garage were discussed at a meeting held in the East Tennessee History Center on Thursday night, and while not as controversial as the new construction on Walnut, Summer Place and Locust, it’s an interesting and challenging project on it’s own. The gathering, which featured probably a dozen people involved in the project and a dozen or so reporters, only included around a half-dozen residents or interested citizens.
Tentative plans covered multiple easels, a slide show duplicated much of their effort and a series of speakers discussed the various facets of the project. The bottom line is that a floor will be added to the three and a half floors of the State Street Garage, increasing the number of spaces by around 240 and bringing the total to over 1,000. Sounds pretty simple. It’s not like we’re building something from the ground up, right? Not so much.
Construction will begin in October and the first phase will include increasing the weight the garage is allowed to bear given today’s standards. Those standards have changed considerably since the original construction over thirty years ago. Current standards require consideration for the possibility of earthquakes, for example. This portion of the construction will be primarily outside the garage and will involve some street or lane closures.
The next phase, beginning around January, will include lifting pre-cast portions of the fourth floor into place atop the garage. During this two-to-three month period, the entire third floor will be off-limits to parking. Plans include offering temporary alternative parking to the people who use the garage daily for work or as their primary parking for their residence downtown.
A final phase will include “architectural touches,” I believe was the phrase. Along the way other changes will be made, some of which have to do with the altered codes mentioned above and some of which have to do with planning for additional floors at some future point. One of the changes has to do with neither, but rather with saving the city money: The outside escalator up to Gay Street will be no more. I regret this only because I thought it was so cool to have an escalator outside the first time I stumbled upon it. I also thought that very same day how strangely impractical it seemed to have such a piece of machinery exposed to the elements.
It turns out, I was right about the impracticality part. The city has been spending an ever-increasing amount of money to maintain the escalator and faced the looming prospect of spending around $250,000 on them in the next year. In its place, to help with the considerable grade from the garage to the level of Gay Street, will be a pedestrian bridge from the second floor of the garage, over State Street and leading directly to the corridor beside Regal Theaters. The current drawings do not include a cover for that walkway, but one is being considered, as I think it should be.
The existing elevator will be removed and the core on the front of the building shifted. In place of the old core will be landscaping and a new elevator capable of extending several more floors will be added. During this portion of the presentation as well as during the discussion of the weight-bearing improvements, the point was clear that everyone in the room expects additional floors in the future. Rick Emmett said the escalating costs prevented further construction at this time, noting that original estimates of $3,000,000 for the floor had grown to $4,000,000. At least two more levels can be added after the work currently planned and some would still like to see condominiums atop the structure. Additional floors will cost the original $3,000,000 (as of now) because the structural (primarily seismic) upgrades being done presently will not have to be repeated
I felt the presentation delineated the process and the obstacles quite well and I left, once again, with a great appreciation for the people who make things happen to improve our city. In the not-so-distant future, Mr. Emmett plans to post a blog giving updates on the progress of the project, much as he did with the 100 Block project. When that time comes, I’ll try to pass along the link. In the meantime, starting in October, you might want to pay attention if you typically use that garage or travel the streets in that part of downtown.