Improving Downtown Parking

By · February 17, 2011 · Filed in Uncategorized

Originally posted September 7, 2007 on Chamber Blog (http://www.wacochamber.com/blog/?p=8)

Here’s an old blog post from our chamber website I put together a few years ago, it remains as relevant as ever and I thought it’d be a great time to revisit…

Improving Downtown Parking

Bear with me for a minute, because I want to suggest a radical idea to you for creating safer, more convenient parking in Downtown Waco…charging market rate pricing for on-street and publicly owned off street parking facilities.  Utilizing parking revenue as a redevelopment tool can change the politics of parking in a city, particularly if these revenues are allocated to pay for public improvements in the neighborhoods that generate them.

Consider an older business district such as Downtown Waco where many stores have little or no off-street parking and vacant curb space is generally difficult to come by. Cruising for free on-street parking congests the streets, and many people complain about a lack of available parking. Charging for an on-street parking space will increase turnover, and reduce traffic congestion. Additionally, the convenience of a few vacancies will also attract more customers who don’t have to spend time hunting for a space.  Most marketing execs and parking consultants will tell you that customers willing to pay a nominal fee for a convenient parking space are more likely to buy something while shopping as opposed to someone who would rather pass up a space than insert a few coins into a parking meter.

Nevertheless, merchants often fear that charging for parking will keep customers away. Suppose in this case the city creates a “Parking Benefit District” in which all the meter revenue is spent to pay for public amenities that can attract customers, expanding sidewalks, planting street trees, improving store facades, and enhancing public safety. The meter revenue will help make the district a place where people want to be. Spending meter revenue to improve the area where it is collected can be advantageous to merchants and property owners when the revenue is reinvested into public improvements within the district.

The appropriate price for on-street parking is the lowest price that keeps a few spaces available to allow convenient access for shoppers.  The goal of market rate pricing is to produce about 85-percent occupancy, so that drivers can find places to park near their destinations.  The purpose of charging market prices for on-street parking is not to generate parking revenue, but to allocate curb spaces more efficiently to drivers, pay for additional police presence to not only enforce new parking standards but provide heightened security in a thriving business district.  Reinvesting parking revenue in a district will also help to create more business and investment opportunities for downtown merchants and property owners.

Drivers who think that less than a handful of spare change is too much to pay for on-street parking can always park free off-street for a period (an hour or two) before having to pay for their space in publicly or privately owned off street parking facilities. The shared public parking can encourage visitors to park once and walk through Downtown Waco.  Public garages if feasible can also maximize their intensity by having ground-floor retail stores and restaurants. The main benefit of this type of shared, public off-street parking avoids the usual haphazard distribution of small private parking lots attached to individual businesses without regard to the design of the neighborhood. If each separate business has its own parking lot for the exclusive use of its own customers, a compact, walkable, park-once business district is nearly impossible.

One way to make this feasible is to create a “Parking Credit Program,” in the PID where a business can pay the city a fee in lieu of providing required off-street parking spaces. The fee per parking credit can be far cheaper than providing an off-street parking space and if structured properly, most businesses will choose to pay the fee rather than provide the required parking. These fees can also contribute to the Parking Benefit District.  The low fees for the parking credits remove a barrier to the redevelopment of existing buildings, and the freedom from parking woes is freedom to grow your business.

The Public Improvement District is a ready-made, legitimate recipient for curb parking revenue. Suppose the city offers the PID the parking meter revenue earned within its boundaries. This arrangement amounts to a matching grant from the city.  If businesses tax themselves to pay for public improvements through the PID, the city could contribute the area’s curb parking revenue to bolster the effort. The matching grant encourages local businesses to invest in downtown and in turn the meter revenue the city allocates to the PID can improve the district, draw more shoppers downtown and increase property values.  This, in turn, creates more sales tax, ad valorem tax and PID assessment revenue from the benefiting businesses and property owners, which will in part continue to be reinvested in the PID.

There you have it, if you have any thoughts or questions on this or anything else related to urban development feel free to drop me a note at cmcgowan@wacochamber.com.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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