Regents set South Mall construction plans in stone

Stacy Jo

After months of discussion and review, plans for the South Mall campus parking structure are finally concrete — figuratively speaking.
Just as the last few shreds of the East River Road parking ramp are being destroyed, the Board of Regents’ facilities committee on Thursday gave a nod to begin constructing a new $43.4 million underground parking ramp in its place.
With the board’s official approval, planners can now choose architects and designers. Construction workers will break ground for the structure in April.
“This really sets in concrete the footprint of this whole area of campus,” said Eric Kruse, associate vice president for Facilities Management.
The South Mall project — which includes housing construction, Coffman Union renovations and Washington Avenue safety improvements — is intended to increase student traffic in the area south of Washington Avenue, bordered on the east by Boynton Health Service.
The East River Road parking ramp — which Kruse said will be completely demolished by the end of next week — offered 1,700 parking spaces. Although future phases of the South Mall project include a 400-space parking addition, initially, the new ramp will hold the same number of cars as the former facility.
But the new ramp will meet a range of different parking needs.
Four hundred spaces are set aside for short-term, hourly parking. Commuter student contracts will comprise another 200 spots, and 850 spaces will be reserved for faculty and staff.
The remaining 250 are contract spots designated for students living in South Mall campus housing. Reserving parking spaces in a ramp specifically for student housing residents — an attempt to enhance the student focus of the area — has never been attempted before, Kruse said.
Similar to the Church Street Garage, the six- to eight-level ramp will be constructed almost entirely underground. Additional buildings slated for the third phase of the project will conceal the ramp completely.
“If we do the job properly, you won’t see (the ramp) at all,” said Lew Moran, a senior associate at the KKE architectural firm that worked with some of the early designs.
The parking facility sets the stage for the rest of the South Mall improvements. Because housing will be constructed on top of the parking structure, planners say the future of the entire development hinges on successful completion of the parking ramp.
Revenue from the ramp’s parking fees will pay off the facility’s mortgage in 20 years, Kruse said. The fees will be structured similarly to those charged at other campus ramps, he added.
As the entire project will be phased in, parking occupancy will also be gradually increased, with the ramp constructed and opened to public use one level at a time. Kruse said he hopes the first parking will be available by August 2000.
The phased approach accounts for the elevation change between East River Road and the Northrop Mall, a difference of 76 feet at its greatest.
Because the University does not own the land between East River Road and the Mississippi, Regent Tom Reagan said it would be nice if the city would donate the land in light of the school’s many contributions to the city.
“It would be a fantastic addition to the University,” Reagan said.
Kruse said the new ramp has not yet been named; administrators will solicit student suggestions for a renaming of the entire South Mall area in the spring.