$3 million renovation begins at downtown Lexington's Annex Garage

Repairs going on to the Annex garage owned by the Lexington Parking Authority on Thursday September 13, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Repairs going on to the Annex garage owned by the Lexington Parking Authority on Thursday September 13, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Old concrete and rusted steel is being removed from the 40-year-old Annex Garage on Main Street.

It's getting a membrane to protect the concrete from water and salt, new lighting, and fresh coats of paint for the elevators and stairwells. Repairs will be made to the circular exit ramp that is now reinforced with steel rods.

All told, the Annex Garage will get a $3 million renovation inside and out and from top to bottom.

Gary Means, executive director of the Lexington Parking Authority that owns and manages the four downtown parking garages, said the entire Annex Garage interior might be painted to make it lighter and brighter.

"We'd like to work that in, but we're going to do the most important things first," Means said.

The changes aren't merely cosmetic.

New equipment will eliminate paper parking tickets and cashier pay stations. Motorists will get a chip when they enter the garage. The chip will be inserted into a machine when motorists pay their fee on their way out. Jack Skelton, vice president of Republic Parking System, the firm hired to manage the parking garages, said chips save on paper and are reusable.

The technology will allow drivers to put an app on their smartphone that tells them how many parking spaces are available before they arrive at the garage. Motorists will be able to buy advance event parking in the Annex Garage online. For example, University of Kentucky basketball fans could buy parking online for the entire basketball season.

James Frazier III, board chairman, said the overhaul provides an opportunity to improve the exterior appearance of the garage. Safety comes first, Frazier told board members on Thursday, "but we're committed to do some architectural enhancement if we can afford it."

LexArts has expressed interest in working with the Parking Authority on a public art project.

Means said when work is completed in late spring, the garage will look brand new.

The top two floors of the Annex Garage were closed to the public on Aug. 20.

On Nov. 7, the first three floors will be closed for five months of renovation. The garage will reopen in late spring. Overflow parking, meanwhile, will be at the Transit Center and Courthouse garages.

After completing the Annex Garage, the Parking Authority will renovate its three other downtown garages: Victorian Square Garage on Short Street, Courthouse Garage on Barr Street and the Lexington Transit Center Garage on East Vine.

None are as deteriorated as the 380-space Annex Garage, which was built in the mid-1960s, Means said, but all the garages can use new lighting and equipment upgrades. Interior and exterior signs will be added as money becomes available.

Renovation of the four structures is estimated at $6 million.

"We are attempting to pay for all this work without using any taxpayer money. We're blending revenue from on-street parking meters, street permits and parking garages," Means said.

The Parking Authority secured $2 million in short-term financing to get the Annex Garage work started. Long-term financing for the entire $6 million could be obtained through bond sales or traditional bank financing.

The board gave Frazier permission to talk to local banks, but Means said it is unclear whether the Parking Authority can finance through a bank. The authority is consulting the city's law department.

Ownership and operation of the garages, which were all built by the city, was turned over to the Parking Authority on July 1. The authority was created by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, but it functions as an independent, financially self-sustaining agency.

With new parking meters and increases in meter rates, the Parking Authority has annual revenues of $1.5 million from on-street parking, and $1.5 million from its garages.

Garages are more expensive to maintain than parking meters.

"When you add all the expenses to run the garages and the meters, we think we will be surplusing somewhere around $800,000 a year," Means said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader