Sugar Hill set to build first level of parking deck

SUGAR HILL - As City Manager Bob Hail pushes planning of Sugar Hill's modern downtown development scheduled to begin in earnest next summer, there've been the enlargements and reductions - and compromises.

One came at the city council's work session Monday, when the decision was all but finalized to build only the first level of a contemplated two-story parking deck adjoining the development's crowning jewel, a 30,000-square-foot, three-story city hall at the corner of West Broad and Temple streets.

Hail considered the discussion pivotal, considering parking is central to all that the 3/4-mile stretch from Peachtree Industrial Boulevard to Ga. Highway 20 might become.

"It's still going to be as grand, just not as big," Hail said of the envisioned turn-of-the-century-style hall, already nearly 20 percent smaller after needs assessment studies. "I'm not going to overbuild just to overbuild."

Ultimately, the estimated $8.5 million hall is planned to be three stories, and when fully operational, require 150 parking stalls. With only two stories slated for build-out initially, Hail said half the parking - and its estimate $750,000 savings - could wait.

It's likely the city initially will build the underground parking level, but prudently, bury the columns that ultimately will support an upper level. That way, "You're building with smart money," and can just add the second level without tearing up the first, Hail said.

Hail has urged for the two-story deck to service things like the small amphitheater nearby, preferring a vertical parking structure to vast, flat spaces he said would diminish the street's 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of planned mixed-use space, wide sidewalks, street lamps and plantings.

"You don't want a sea of asphalt," Hail said. "We don't want the street looking like a Wal-Mart."

City Community Relations Director Don Kelemen said that to duplicate the shopping and dining synergy of newly developed Suwanee and Buford downtowns, parking might best be plentiful sooner than later.

"If you're going to have an amenity like an amphitheater," Kelemen said, "you're going to need space."

Expected to be funded from SPLOST, Sugar Hill hopes late this year to begin at least the sidewalks and street lamps, and by mid- 2010 to start the city hall and parking deck. Ultimately, the master plan includes shops, multi-story, mixed-use buildings and residential-retail, as well as a detention-retention pond and potentially senior living. Officials of Gwinnett's fourth-largest city hope the streetscape will lure developers to build out the balance of the downtown district.

The existing, smaller city hall at the other end of West Broad, near Level Creek Road, could become a police department.