Last Wednesday, someone drove into the garage and parked on the third floor. After descending the staircase the person was stopped.
"It's not open? What do you mean it's not open?" the person said. Senior project manager Rey Rodriguez recalled the incident during a tour Friday.
On the top floor is the pride of city officials, $1 million worth of solar panels (there will be a $237,000 rebate from PG&E) which power the lights and two elevators in the building. It may take 30 years for the city to recoup that investment through energy savings, but the City Council wanted to set an example and show a commitment to green building. The council also told staff that it had to be "a parking garage that didn't look like a parking garage," Rodriguez said.
"I never thought I could get this excited about a parking garage," said Kevin Duggan, city manager.
The 405-space, five-level garage blends in with its surroundings when viewed from the street, and looks very different from most parking garages. On the corner of the first floor is 14,000 square feet for Longs Drugs. Above its entrance are "art glass" windows reaching several stories, painted by an artist whose windows are in some of the world's tallest buildings.
Inside the garage, walls are painted white instead of the typical, foreboding grey cement.
The top floor has been offset inward to lessen the visual impact of a tall garage, making it seem only a bit taller than the homes across Bryant Street.
For years, downtown residents have asked for a drug store and grocery store. This fall, Longs Drugs is expected to finish its tenant improvements and move into the bottom floor. Now that the garage is mostly complete, work on that space is expected to start this week.
Rodriguez anticipates the garage will be heavily used right from the start, with many people driving up to the third floor just to see the art glass, then to the top floor to see the canopy of solar panels. There is also a great view of the city and the mountains.
The "art glass" windows were painted with special paint by San Francisco artist Shan Shan Sheng before being shipped to Germany to complete the process of curing the paint and fitting the pieces into double-pane windows.
The floors of the garage have their own story. To strengthen them, cables were laid down in a special pattern and pulled tight once the cement was dry. Rodriguez called it "post tension" cement. The floor above the Longs is also thicker than the rest of the floors to prevent vibration from cars driving overhead. The store may be the only Longs Drugs with numerous cement pillars adding to the decor.
Though it may be an attraction in itself, parking at the garage will be free, city officials say. A two-hour limit will apply during business hours, like in other downtown lots.
A ceremony to open the garage is scheduled for Wednesday, May 2 at 4.30 p.m.