In all the ruckus about American National Insurance Co.’s efforts to close 20th Street between Mechanic and Market streets to build a public plaza, it’s easy to lose sight of what the Galveston-based company is trying to achieve, which is to improve conditions for its employees.
It’s also easy to forget that American National plans to develop a sorely needed six-story parking garage that ultimately could benefit downtown by providing spaces during weekends and festivals.
American National, which employs hundreds of people downtown, has come under fire for seeking to build a raised public plaza it said would keep employees from having to wade through water when they walk from the proposed garage to the company’s building during heavy storms.
The proposed plaza has been met with resistance from some business owners and residents because it would close a public street to benefit a corporation’s headquarters and because, some argue, it could exacerbate flooding downtown.
Those concerns are legitimate, but it would be unfair to demonize a company that’s attempting to accommodate its employees and to invest in what likely will be a very expensive parking garage that could help alleviate parking space shortages downtown.
The 500-space parking garage, proposed in the block west of the company’s downtown tower, One Moody Plaza, is intended to replace several surface lots employees now use for parking.
The parking garage has been in the works for several years and has many moving parts and some parts that have stopped moving.
In 2016, Port Arthur-based development firm The ITEX Group said it planned to build a 232-unit apartment complex at the site of the Medical Arts Building, 302 21st St. The ITEX Group earlier that year had finalized the acquisition of the long-vacant building. And the firm announced it would partner with American National on the six-story parking garage.
Whether The ITEX Group is reconsidering the apartment complex development isn’t clear. Representatives this week didn’t answers questions from The Daily News. But American National President and CEO James E. Pozzi this week said the parking garage would go on, with or without the apartment complex.
That’s no small thing. Parking garages are expensive endeavors. Consider that a typical surface parking spot costs between $5,000 and $10,000 to construct, which includes the value of the land it occupies. But a single parking space in a garage costs $25,000 to $50,000 to construct, according to a 2018 report by Strong Towns, a nonprofit group that does a lot of ruminating and researching about what makes cities strong and resilient.
Although the parking garage would be privately owned, Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough hopes it would be open to the public on weekends and during special events.
“We have events and we have parking issues downtown and we have parking issues on weekends,” Yarbrough said. “We would like to have that excess parking available to use for public purposes and city purposes.”
That’s a proposition Yarbrough and city officials should continue to pursue.
American National has responded to public criticism of the raised plaza by saying it would consider an elevated walking bridge from the garage to the company’s building, though that would be more expensive than the raised plaza.
On July 16, American National will again go before Galveston’s planning commission on the matter of the raised plaza. And American National officials have said they’re weighing their options. Whatever the outcome, American National’s efforts shouldn’t be characterized as some nefarious plot to steal a piece of public asphalt.
There’s nothing sinister about a company wanting to invest in its surroundings and its employees.
• Laura Elder