Mayor Pat Patterson told members of the Courthouse Square Preservation Commission on Wednesday that the project is a necessity, but money is a hurdle.
"If we had $5 million, we'd already be pouring concrete," he said.
City Planner Tim Akers briefed commission members about the task force's findings. Three current parking lots are under consideration for a 300-car parking structure.
One is behind the Oxford-University Club off North Lamar Boulevard, and another is southwest of the Square, between Harrison and Tyler avenues.
A parking lot behind City Hall is the front-runner location because of its three-street access, larger size and a topography that would hide its three stories from the Square while providing easy access.
"There's a lot of interest in this site, with the idea of having a promenade to enter onto the Square," Akers said. As envisioned, the promenade would open onto the Square where Skipwith Cottage now sits next to City Hall.
Cost, aesthetics and actual and perceived safety were identified as critical factors for any proposal. An "airport" design would be cheaper as well as more open, which could make motorists feel safer going to and from their cars.
Parking garages don't have to be ugly. A municipal garage in Franklin, Tenn., an upscale small town outside of Nashville, won the International Excellence in Masonry Award for its ability to blend in with its historic surroundings.
Such attractiveness isn't cheap, though. Akers estimated an open concrete "airport"-style structure could provide spaces at $10,000 each, while a more nuanced facade would cost $15,000 or more.
Commissioner Mike Overstreet appealed for a compromise. "We don't need a Taj Mahal," he said, "but it would be nice to have some aesthetics on at least one side."
Patterson said safety and cost would be crucial to the project.
"It never quits running through my mind what are the potential safety factors," he said. "I've been working on how to do this without raising taxes."
The parking garage task force is expected to offer a report in mid-spring.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or email@example.com.