Gallatin city leaders have verbally agreed to partner with Sumner County to build a multi-million-dollar parking garage in downtown.
The multi-level structure is proposed to be built directly behind the Gallatin Public Library near the intersection of East Smith Street and South Water Avenue and would be constructed alongside a new criminal justice center, according to Mike Thomas, president of Justice Planning Associates.
The garage would have room for approximately 450 parking spaces and cost an estimated $9.5 million in total to design and build.
“We’ve thought through this pretty carefully,” Thomas told the Gallatin City Council during a committee meeting May 28. “By comparison, Rutherford County built a 360-car garage to accommodate their courts and they have more volume than you do.”
No specifics about what any possible agreement between the city and county would look like were discussed during the meeting. The county is looking at approximately 350 parking spaces for the courts while Gallatin would likely pay for any additional spaces it wanted at a cost of approximately $20,000 each.
“I’m excited about this project,” District 3 Councilman Jimmy Overton said about the project. “It’s going to be great for our downtown.
“Partnering with (the county) would cost a whole lot less than if we did it on our own.”
Sumner County commissioners voted earlier this year to spend $865,000 to purchase the First Baptist Church parking lot and Student Ministry Center at the corner of East Main Street and South Boyers Avenue to be the site of the new criminal justice center. The church would also take ownership of the nearby Sumner County Juvenile Courthouse property as part of the deal.
A portion of the money will be used by the church to add additional parking along East Smith Street that will help replace the spaces that will be lost when construction of the new courthouse begins, according to Thomas. The parking garage could not be built first because the site will need to be used initially to store construction materials.
Construction of the new courthouse is expected to take at least two years but no more than three years to complete, according to county leaders involved with the project. A parking garage would take one year to build.
Mayor Paige Brown has expressed concerns in recent months about the impact the temporary displacement of parking will have to downtown businesses.
“Right now, there is no downtown parking during the day except in that lot,” she said during the May 28 meeting. “It’s going to be devastating if there are not provisions made to accommodate downtown patrons.
“When merchants and downtown businesses get wind of what the plan is, it’s going to be crazy because they are going to feel like they are going to have their doors shut.”
City and county leaders are exploring the possibility of closing a portion of East Smith Street to help speed up construction of the parking garage. The city may also need to widen East Smith Street at the intersection of South Water Avenue in order to accommodate construction traffic, according to Thomas.
“I’ve seen a lot of these courthouses built around the country,” Thomas added. “I expect your downtown will take off. Yeah, you’ll have a growing pain to do it, but I just don’t know that there is a way to build a building that big smack in the middle of your downtown and not have any inconvenience whatsoever.”
Last year, Justice Planning Associates delivered its final report outlining five projects the judicial planning firm recommended be completed in order to address the county’s current criminal justice facility issues and future needs.
Suggested budgets for each project include $78 million for the construction of a new courthouse, $10 million for jail and sheriff’s office expansions and $8.1 million for a renovation of the existing courthouse, according to the report.
Sumner County Commissioner Leslie Schell, who also chairs the county’s General Operations Committee, said the full county commission could vote on whether to move forward with the projects within the next two or three months.
The total cost to build the new courthouse would not be needed immediately and would not require a tax increase as the county pays off existing debt in the coming years, according to Schell.
“If it were to receive approval from the commission, we’re still pretty far out from actually starting construction on that (judicial building),” she added. “It’s my understanding that we have the bond capacity to do that.”