Aiken City Council on Wednesday gave Manager John Klimm permission to negotiate with the preferred developer, the Carbon Properties team, to construct a potential downtown parking garage on the southwest corner of Newberry Street and Richland Avenue.

Council’s consent to move forward came in the form of a resolution that passed unanimously during a special-called meeting. Mayor Rick Osbon and Councilman Dick Dewar were not present. Passing the resolution does not mean the project is final, however. Council’s affirmation was needed to move negotiations along. Any further actions and decisions will require Council approval in a public setting.

“We certainly don’t have all the answers before us, but every project needs a starting point, and passing the resolution gets us to step number one,” said Councilman Philip Merry.

Wednesday’s action allows the City and consultants from various engineering and architectural firms to dig deeper into the possibility of building a multi-story structure that would encompass property currently owned by Shah Investments, and private citizens Myrtle and C.B. Anderson. Preliminary discussions suggest that, if built, the garage would provide between 250 and 350 additional parking spaces with easy access to The Alley and Downtown.

Ground-floor retail also is part of the plan. If it were not, there’s little doubt that anyone on Council would have considered to the possibility of a parking garage, Klimm said. Many residents at Wednesday’s meeting admitted they wouldn’t have, either.

Downtown parking, or a lack thereof, has been a passionate subject to many people for at least two decades with no resolution. Council’s most recent action brings the City closer to finding a solution or axing the idea altogether.

The City has held several public meetings over the last 15 months as part of its strategic planning process. Parking, unsurprisingly, was a hot-button issue. People have complained for years that the downtown business district just doesn’t have enough places to park, particularly during lunch hour, late evenings on certain nights of the week, weekends and during special events. The issue has been talked extensively and studied in 2006, 20015 and earlier this year.

“It’s time to bring closure to the issue of downtown parking once and for all,” Klimm said.