The DDA voted in October to add three stories to the Ann-Ashley parking structure.
From the November, 2017 issue
As downtown added thousands of jobs and residents, the number of hourly parkers rose 30 percent between 2006 and 2015. At eight of the nine city-run structures, downtown workers who want a monthly parking permit can expect to wait at least a year. Two years ago, consultants predicted that the system would face a shortage of 860 spaces in 2019 ("Parking Squeeze," February).
Even that was optimistic. The consultants didn't factor in the likelihood that the 166-space Brown Block parking lot will eventually be erased by development, and may not even have allowed for the 300-plus spaces the city has since promised to the developer who's planning a seventeen-story building atop the underground Liberty Lane structure.
By past standards, it seemed inevitable that the DDA would ask city council to expand the system. But as a reader pointed out when our February article appeared, some question whether the city should add parking, because of the environmental impact of private cars, or even needs to--demand could fall if more people switch to ride-sharing services or alternative transportation.
And there's the problem of paying for it. In 2013, when council was dominated by what the Observer calls the "back-to-basics caucus," it voted to cap the growth to the DDA's tax revenue. The "activist coalition" soon regained control, but the cap remains--no doubt because that money instead goes directly into the budgets of the city and other taxing authorities. As a result, DDA director Susan Pollay warned, "it will take years before the DDA would have sufficient funds to pursue a future parking facility."
As recently as this summer, Pollay wrote in a July email, "The DDA held a half day retreat to talk about parking including the question [of] whether to add additional parking to the system. The majority of DDA members are not there yet as far as a decision to add more public parking." In September, she added that "it's not clear when a decision may be made."
her twelve-member board was moving faster than she thought. "We know that there is a need for more parking especially in downtown, and we knew time was of the essence," says board member Rishi Narayan, co-owner of Underground Printing. And by adding onto an existing structure, it could be done relatively quickly and cheaply.
"We already had plans mostly drawn up, we needed to know we could afford it and could pay it off," Narayan says. "We had very serious discussion at the retreat three or four months back. We tabled it for a month [because] we wanted to confirm the financing and make sure that all board members were on board." In October, they voted unanimously to add 385 spaces to Ann-Ashley at a cost of about $18 million. DDA chair Phil Weiss says that they're already preparing to bid it, and expect responses in the winter or spring. Construction should take "eighteen months, start to finish."
City council still has to approve the project, which is likely to be discussed at the joint DDA-council work session on November 13. But mayor Christopher Taylor already is signaling his support: "If that's the most cost-effective solution, I'm very open to it," he says.
Another DDA decision is likely to improve council's attitude: in February, the board agreed to raise the share of parking revenue it sends to the city from 17 to 20 percent for the next two years, which should boost the city budget by about $630,000 annually. Similar "temporary" transfers in the past have turned out to be permanent.
At the same October meeting, the DDA board voted to install temporary suicide-prevention fencing atop its structures. It had been planning to rebid a project to build permanent fencing but decided not to wait after two more fatal falls in September and October.
[Originally published in November, 2017.]
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