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

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

(5) comments

Bailey Jones

I've always thought that you can tell a lot about how much a company values its employees by how much water and weather they make them slog through each morning. I usually think about this while wading through the inches deep water that surrounds every building entrance where I work. So, I applaud this new parking lot. Hopefully the company will also address the concerns, real or imagined, about increased flooding. I think the bridge is a great idea, and if the lot can be used by the city on weekends, even better. A win-win for downtown.

William Mattson

Thank you, Laura, for bringing a voice of reason to this issue. Most communities would be accommodating when a leading employer proposes to do something that both helps their employees and the surrounding community. The potential downsides seem miniscule compared to the benefits. Bill Mattson

Wayne Holt

Just for the record: the moderately heavy but brief rainfall we had on June 25 resulted in that exact spot flooding over the south curb top of 20th St along with Market St parking lanes flooding on both sides of the street...within one hour. There were even barricades in both streets soon after to warn drivers of the high water. Shouldn't city government be bending its back to fix the flooding already endemic to that location rather than entertaining plans to construct plazas that will drain onto already flooded streets?

Gary Miller

Where do the employees park now? City parking meters for some of them. The garage will free up that parking asset for days employees use the garage. Improvement for Island workers? Improvement for company employees? Is anyone disadvantaged?

Wayne Holt

Gary, from what I've read, there hasn't been any opposition to the multi-story garage. The entire point of contention is the proposal to build a rather elaborate plaza in a place that experiences significant flooding already. This is ostensibly to assist Anico employees in getting from the current parking lot across to their offices. The only reason that I've seen regarding why the skybridge was originally eliminated as a solution was some strange reference to the building swaying. I'm not an engineer but this doesn't sound credible as a plausible reason to be considering something with very real potential to increase flooding into adjacent businesses and residences. The latest newsflash indicates Anico is considering the sky bridge again...but the plaza proposal hasn't been pulled from Plannng's upcoming agenda, to my knowledge. Something as simple as providing a second floor skybridge from the new parking garage would accomplish exactly what Anico claims is their objective, and do it without creating more problems for their neighbors. Are we getting the whole story on this project?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.