When the Innovista project was launched around four years ago to entice high-tech companies and innovation to kick-start South Carolina’s slumping economy, the state government, working with USC, began its construction frenzy. Numerous buildings and parking garages — specifically, the Horizon and Discovery garages — were constructed on the margins of our campus.
Four years later, these garages are not only largely vacant — 65 percent occupancy for Horizon and 50 percent for Discovery — but they’re also draining money from USC. As a result, USC has been forking over around $1 million each year just to pay off the debts from building the garages. All this while our university scrambles to find enough money to fix leaky roofs and run-down facilities.
Now, USC is banking on the opening of the new business school and the expansion of campus in that direction to reel in more revenue to the two empty garages. However, what USC has not considered is that students select parking based on proximity to their classes, and while the new business school may fill up Horizon and Discovery, Senate and Pendleton garages will drain as a result. USC claims that the more efficient shuttle system in the future will make parking location irrelevant, but we have a hard time believing that will be the case.
USC will most likely be losing money for many years to come, but they can learn a lesson from it. The next time the university wishes to build, those in charge should make sure the demand is there first instead of relying on construction to create demand. Otherwise, our ambitious projects may end up being what these garages are at a risk of becoming: a huge debt hole.