Asset Generation / Construction / Parking: What to Do When They Collide?

By Gerald R. “Bob” Harkins

(As you read through this piece, you can easily change the word “university” to “hospital” or “city.” The issues dealing with “taking” surface parking for new construction transcend the organization type. Editor)

On many, if not most, college or university campuses, several forces are impacting the parking systems these days. We will examine two of these issues during our session next month at the Parking Industry Exhibition (PIE) 2014.

If you are a parking administrator at any level or in any capacity, this session will provide a clear example of how to address the issue of parking as an asset and how to cope with loss of facilities.

We are all aware of the struggle for additional sources of non-tuition-related funding in higher education. This struggle takes the avenue of providing either immediate large sums of money or recurring funding for many years. Regardless of the direction, the parking system and the associated assets at college and universities are now being viewed as a possible solution to solve funding shortages.

The second force affecting college and university parking systems that we will discuss in this PIE session is the impact that building new facilities has on parking. With the price of, and also the scarcity of, land next to institutions of higher education, parking facilities become a possible solution to provide the needed acreage on which to build academic, research and administrative facilities for expansion of enrollment and programs.

During this session, we will look at these two issues and how Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) at The University of Texas (UT) at Austin approached them.

From the beginnings of the parking systems on the UT campus, parking was viewed as a service that was designed to be a break-even auxiliary. Parking systems were to provide for Operations, Maintenance, and Equipment (OME) funding, pay any debt service, and maintain a reserve for contingencies or emergencies.

Rate increases were made only when the funding situation demanded such an increase. In today’s college or university environment, parking is viewed as an asset that can provide a large sum of immediate funding or sustained annual recurring funds. Whether it is through monetization or privatization, all parking systems are being viewed as a potential funding solution. The University of Texas PTS recently faced this challenge. During this session, you will see the approach taken and the solutions that they presented to the campus.

Before the review of parking as a money generation asset, the UT was finalizing a Campus Master Space Plan that would guide facility construction for the next 20 years. The campus in Austin, like most urban colleges or universities, is land-locked, with little if any land available for expansion of facilities or acquiring additional university property.

So when the plan called for an additional 2 million-square-feet of buildings, the first and only solution was to capture existing surface parking lots. When the solution is losing the vast majority of surface parking spaces, how does PTS work within the Campus Master Space Plan process to develop a solution?

During this session, we will look at the process of master plan development and solutions that UT PTS developed. What is the balance of alternative transportation and garage parking for a university of 54,000 students, 17,000 staff and faculty, as well as 5,000 visitors daily? With a significant shift from surface to garage parking, there is a greater need for increased revenue.

How do you balance this requirement for additional funding to pay debt service while maintaining without significant rate increases? During this session, we will review the space issue and the funding needs to pay the debt service.

Gerald R. “Bob” Harkins is Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Security at The University of Texas, Austin. He can be reached at bharkins@austin.utexas.edu