The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners is expected to review plans Tuesday for a new parking deck to serve the county’s court system, a proposal that has drawn opposition from some residents and local stakeholders.
Plans for the parking deck show it to be seven stories in height with 586 spaces. Six electric vehicle charging stations will be included in the facility, while 15 spaces behind the deck will be developed for the Cherokee County Arts Center. The deck will be free to the public 24/7, county officials said.
Efforts to build a new parking deck as part of an expansion of the county’s justice center began more than a year ago, according to Cherokee County spokeswoman Erika Neldner. Two sites were identified by county officials, one behind the historic courthouse and the other behind the current justice center parking deck. The county decided the spot that was chosen, the one behind the historic courthouse, would be more cost effective than the other option.
The first time plans for the deck were presented at a public meeting was at a July Canton City Council session, where county officials shared their plans with city leaders. There, Canton Mayor Bill Grant and Canton City Councilwoman Brooke Schmidt said they were concerned that the arts center would be hidden by the parking deck.
“I do not think the structure adheres to our new roadmap tenet of ‘Enhancing the Potential of Historic Downtown Canton,’” Grant said Thursday. “We have worked diligently to protect the small town character of our downtown corridor, and we have made a lot of progress in recent years. In fact, downtown Canton has experienced over 500,000 square feet of historic preservation and adaptive redevelopment projects in the past five years alone. The charm and hometown appeal of downtown Canton is obvious, as demonstrated by the multitude of films that chose downtown as a location for their productions.”
Neldner said the parking deck, if located behind the historic courthouse, is estimated to cost between $13 and $14 million. If the county had chosen to locate the new parking deck behind the current justice center deck, its estimated price tag came out to between $20 and $24 million. The county has budgeted about $13 million from the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund for the parking deck.
No public input meetings were held during the design process, though the number of parking spaces was determined through a needs assessment based on county personnel, additional court personnel and all courts being in session at the same time, Neldner said. The design was created with the next 10-15 years in mind.
Some local residents have established a group, “Save Our View Canton” on Facebook, to protect the aesthetic views of downtown Canton, according to Bill and Nell Magruder, who helped found the group. The Magruders say the group has asked county officials to revisit the parking deck plans and consider alternatives.
Due to the parking deck’s size, Bill Magruder said it would blot out the cemetery and dwarf the historic courthouse.
“More parking is needed, but I don’t think this resolves the issue correctly,” Nell Magruder said.
Cherokee County Historical Society Executive Director Stefanie Joyner said the organization was concerned about how the parking deck would alter downtown Canton’s streetscape around the historic courthouse.
“We understand the need for additional parking when court is in session, but hope that there may be an alternative to the current plan,” Joyner said.
County officials have said wayfinding signs would be installed in the deck to help guide people to both the arts center and Riverview Cemetery.
“The county understands that while there is support for this project that brings an additional 550 parking spaces to downtown Canton, there is opposition,” Neldner said. “Chairman (Harry) Johnston is putting together a committee of interested parties to include the historical society, the city of Canton, Cherokee County, court system representatives, downtown businesses and Riverview Cemetery Association representatives to come together and work out issues related to this project.”
Commissioners are scheduled to hear a presentation from staff on the parking deck at their next work session, which starts at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Grant said he and other city officials will meet with Johnston, Commissioner Steve West and County Manager Geoff Morton to discuss the parking deck and other possibilities on Aug. 23.
“In my discussions with Chairman Johnston and Commissioner West, I believe they are sincere in their desire to work with all parties to explore additional ideas, and I look forward to our continued (dialogue),” Grant said.
Joyner added the historical society was looking forward to the meeting and exploring the options being presented, and she hoped an agreement could be reached that everyone would find acceptable.
The county board of commissioners meets at the Cherokee County Administrative Building, 1130 Bluffs Parkway in Canton. Meetings are also live streamed at https://bit.ly/3iH5PlE.