By. Neil Williamson, President
Prediction: In 2056, Charlottesville’s Market Street Garage and City Hall Complex will be razed to make way for a new Hotel and Conference Center.
There are two distinctly different paths to this prediction, economic dislocation/collapse [think Detroit 2013] or a capstone of a visionary community investment program – interestingly, parking will be a leading indicator on the City’s direction.
Please let me explain.
The City’s recent decision to abandon their parking meter “pilot program” makes good sense in the short term but the long term issues surrounding parking are significantly larger than a few on street meters. Currently, the existing garages are effectively full, with greater than 350 potential parkers on waiting lists for the opportunity to buy a monthly parking pass.
Commercial development activity continues in downtown with four prominent parking demanding projects currently in the pipeline. Conservative estimates place the new parking deficit [parking demand less parking provided] created by these developments to be 844 spaces [(386) Charlottesville Technology Center, (213) West 2nd Street, (160) Dewberry Hotel, (85) Vault Virginia].
If there is a future parking deficit exceeding 800 spaces based on projected demand, what would be the cost of building a parking deck to meet that need? It is widely accepted that structured parking costs roughly $25,000 a space to build (absent land costs). Thus, just the construction cost for an 850-space garage would be $21.25 million (absent land costs).
Last week, I had an over simplistic epiphany regarding the future of transportation. With the advent of self-driving cars (which will be a reality sooner than we realize), “park and ride” parking lots will be replaced by more efficient and less land demanding “ride and park” lots surrounding more walkable business and commercial districts. The car will drop you at your destination and drive to a nearby, but not too close, parking area.
This no longer science fiction and will completely rework the highest and best use of the land within the business district and increase the value of parcels currently too distant to serve as parking alternatives.
The average life of a parking deck is 50 years; with this pending innovation of self driving cars, the need for close in parking is reduced so how should Charlottesville deal with the next 33 years of market parking demand exceeding supply. The easy answer is build more parking but make the building flexible for reuse.
Progressive parking experts are now contemplating designing parking buildings with the clear vision of conversion to mixed use buildings later in their useful lifetime. By designing parking decks with higher ceilings, roughed in plumbing mains and central elevators (rather than on the corners). The infrastructure investment is higher than building a standard deck but it serves as insurance that the investment is not lost as demand shifts from parking storage to office/residential space.
If we accept that there is a parking deficit (for the next 30 years), what should be the role of the City in remedying this situation?
Option 1 – Charlottesville City Council could choose to do nothing. Parking availability could go from bad to worse as downtown employees and customers are forced into mass transit (if available) or parking further from employment centers.
Option 2 – The City could build a lot on the recently acquired Guadalajara/Lucky 7 lot. Based on the current political reality, I fail to see Charlottesville City Council showing the leadership vision necessary to spend $21+ million to address this clear and present danger to downtown economic vitality.
Option 3 – Charlottesville could enter into a Public Private Partnership (3P or PPP) on the Guadalajara/Lucky 7 lot. The PPP Knowledge Lab defines Public Private Partnerships as:
a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity, for providing a public asset or service, in which the private party bears significant risk and management responsibility, and remuneration is linked to performance. PPPs typically do not include service contracts or turnkey construction contracts, which are categorized as public procurement projects, or the privatization of utilities where there is a limited ongoing role for the public sector.
The PPP option would require a challenging, lengthy process (likely 3+ years) to seek and identify appropriate partners, develop mutually beneficial agreements including financing options all prior to construction.
Back to our prediction:
If the Charlottesville selects the ostrich method of Option 1, the downward economic spiral that was exacerbated by the events of August 12th will continue. Enterprises see the City failing to address the paring infrastructure issue and flee the City to locations in Albemarle County (Shops at Stonefield, Fifth Street Station, Reimagined Albemarle Square, Peter Jefferson Place, etc.) or elsewhere with ample free parking. This exodus would significantly reduce Charlottesville’s vitality, as well as its real estate and sales tax revenue.
The loss of revenue creates a reduction in City provided services; resulting in a citizen revolt and resignation of City staff and City Council. After a special election, a new City Manager is hired and recommends (and council agrees) to sell off the City’s real estate assets (City Hall and Market Street Parking Garage) to raise much needed revenue. The buyer gets the property for a song, demolishes the existing structures and builds a 15 story hotel and conference center (with parking deck).
or, in an alternative reality
Charlottesville chooses either Option 2 or Option 3, as well as other investments in the community. Enterprises and neighborhoods thrive, tax revenue continues to climb as the City’s business and residential density increases; autonomous cars and an enhanced transit service reduce the need for structured parking downtown. As an economic development catalyst, Charlottesville chooses to move City Hall to the Strategic Investment Area (SIA).
The City enters into a Public Private Partnership with a developer to raze the Market Street Garage and City Hall and construct a seven story conference center hotel. The four star hotel fronts on the Downtown Mall and the newly branded “Uber” Pavilion.
Both paths of these paths seem to end in the same place but the courage of City Council making long term infrastructure decisions drives the successful community while a lack of such vision creates economic uncertainty and possible municipal failure.
Charlottesville future will be decided by those in power at present. Parking, and other municipal decisions, will determine which path the city travels.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.
Photo Credits: Savannah.com, Tripadvisor.com