A (Parking) Tale of Two Cities

Two stories that made headlines last week do a great job of highlighting the messy business of transition as Austin, and particularly downtown Austin, outgrows its small town status to become a metro area with two million people living, working, worshiping, and playing here.Screen shot 2015-09-28 at 2.19.46 PM

One of those headlines was the news that The Episcopal Church is seeking a development partner to redevelop what has been surface parking lots next door to its current location near 7th St. and Trinity St. This could become a major new development, possibly providing more office and retail space in a part of downtown that is lagging behind the redevelopment occurring elsewhere. So far this all sounds really great, right?

The first little wrinkle is that Caritas, another great civic asset, parks most of its employees in that lot, and many of their employees currently use their own vehicles for client visits and taking clients to services and job interviews. Given that downtown already has a shortage of monthly parking, this will mean Caritas has a relatively short timeframe to help their employees shift both commuting and work travel.

The second story was about the City Austin seeking lower rates from the County for monthly parking. Oddly, the City is developing a parking enterprise specifically to have more city-owned parking available for other businesses and downtown visitors, but part of that effort means the City, County and others must stop giving away “discounted” parking to employees. The County is following this playbook and seeks to raise prices making them more comparable to “market rates” throughout downtown. So it becomes an “oops” moment when one city department seeks to continue giving away discounted parking to employees and publicly objects to rate increases as they seek to continue leasing spaces from the County.

There are fewer parking spaces downtown per capita than ever before. We are building on some of the most underutilized ground in downtown: surface parking lots. We are packing more employees into less office square footage so fewer parking spaces are available per employee. There are even a few, albeit very few, buildings that are significantly reducing their building costs by building less parking. We also simply have more people visiting, living, and working downtown than ever before. Downtown is on the verge of becoming a great and vibrant place for people; but before we get there, we will have more stories of how messy transitions can become.

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