DEMOREST — The Demorest City Council is working with Piedmont College to solve a years-old problem of space limitations downtown.
That solution could come in the form of a three- or four-story parking garage with glass-front retail space on the top floor overlooking Central Avenue (Business 441).
The design of the proposed structure would be in keeping with the historic downtown, and it would increase the current 60 or parking spaces downtown to more than 100, according to Mayor Rick Austin.
“Tonight, we had the opportunity to discuss and ultimately approve the concept for the City of Demorest to enter into a public/private partnership with Piedmont College to explore the building of a multi-story parking deck that would be in the immediate downtown area,” Austin said after the meeting. “And the top floor of that parking deck consisting of prime retail space. If you can imagine brick façade on a parking structure that’s very tastefully done.”
Following an hour in closed session Tuesday night, the council voted to spend $6,500 with Beck Associates Architects of Oklahoma City, Okla., for conceptual drawings and preliminary cost estimates for the project.
“Once we get that, we’ll have a much better idea on timeline and cost,” Mayor Rick Austin said. “It will give us an understanding of what we need to do in terms of financing, grants and those types of funding opportunities for us.”
Beck Associates is doing design work on the college’s new music building that will be built between the Piedmont College Chapel and Massachusetts Boulevard, so Demorest officials discuss the complementary project with the firm’s staff while they were in town.
“As they understand it, we’re looking for a destination, and with this retail space being on top overlooking 441, Demorest Park, the chapel, the new music building that’s going to be constructed just across the street, it’s a prime opportunity for us to move the city forward in a number of ways,” Austin said. “It increases our retail space that’s available. It corrects not a perceived parking problem, but a very real parking problem. We are limited by space and land. This helps correct that, and I am very pleased that Piedmont College is partnering with us in this project, and we’re excited about the potential that this preliminary phase will reveal to us as we move forward.”
City Manager Kristi Shead said Beck Associates officials have stated they can complete their initial work in May.
“It’s going to be a quick turnaround,” Shead said. “They are technologically advanced. They’ll dial in, we’ll actually work on the conceptual with them remotely, so we’ll sit at our desks and design a 3-D model.”
Shead said she looks forward to the city and college working together for the good of all involved.
“One of the things I’ve been really excited about in going through the process of seeing this project come to light and then carrying it through to fruition is just the fact we’ve worked so closely with Piedmont College,” Shead said. “As I see that relationship develop, I’m very pleased and I see the positive results that we’re all going to benefit from.”
Specifically, the college and city are looking to re-purpose the large parking lot located between downtown Demorest and the overhead pedestrian bridge linking that lot with the main part of the Piedmont College campus.
Austin said the college is willing to remove the large metal building at the back of the lot to allow a larger footprint for the proposed structure, maximizing the available new parking and retail opportunities.
“I’ve often said that the college should be an economic driver for the city and vice versa,” Shead told AccessWDUN after the meeting. “The city should be an economic driver for the college. As we build upon our downtown to create an atmosphere that’s desirable by students and their families. This project helps us to bring that all to fruition.”
Similarly, Austin said he is happy the city is working with the college.
“I’m excited about the possibilities, and this is step 1 in that process of doing a public/private partnership between Piedmont College and the City of Demorest that benefits not only the citizens of Demorest but Piedmont College and people in our community and our county, and again puts us in a nice position,” Austin said.
Austin said the city’s upcoming distilled spirits referendum in May could influence the success of the proposed and future downtown development.
“One of the things I’m excited about is it gives opportunity for us as a community as we move toward the May 22 election to understand that this city is moving forward,” Austin said. “And if the city wants an opportunity to have access to prime retail that might include some prime restaurant space outdoor/indoor that they’ve got an opportunity to help the community get there with a simple vote on a yes on a distilled spirits election that’s going to occur on May 22.”