An $81K Per Space Legacy?
City of Santa Monica, CA
By Frank Ching
Santa Monica, CA, has a unique dynamic consisting of residents, employees, employers and tourists – all whom care immensely about the economic health, functionality and sustainability of the city. The demolition and reconstruction of its Parking Structure 6 piqued everyone’s interest, as it was most likely going to put a strain on an already tight parking situation in the Downtown area.
My job as the city’s Parking Administrator was to ensure that the residents and visitors retained a pleasant parking experience and were minimally impacted by closing a major parking facility – a parking facility that accommodated tens of thousands of vehicles annually. I definitely had my work cut out for me!
Several years ago, I attended a class that required me to develop a mission statement for my life, something that I would live by and that would allow me to teach others the importance of the mission. This mission would affect my family and career, and even my hobbies.
I must admit, the professor’s name and image escape me, but the profound impact of creating my mission will stay with me forever. It’s actually quite simple – “Leave Something Behind” – and is posted in my office to remind me of my pursuit.
In 2013, I accomplished my mission when the city’s reconstructed Parking Structure 6 was opened.
In general, parking operators and administrators inherit facilities in which adjustments are made in order to operate more efficiently. As Santa Monica’s Parking Administrator, I was invited to take part in the planning and implementation process of Structure 6 from beginning to end.
I have opened several new parking facilities in my career, but my involvement in this process made it the most meaningful.
Several ideas were brought to the table when the redesign of Parking Structure 6 first emerged. The need for more parking spaces was a necessity to accommodate redevelopment of some of the smaller structures around the city. These were eventually going to be demolished and replaced with retail and theater developments, reducing the available parking. All options were discussed.
Would it be cheaper to save space with a mechanical garage or would a self-served conventional garage be best for the city? After all considerations, Structure 6 mirrors the other city garages by providing an automated parking facility with staff that perform as Customer Service Ambassadors, rather than cashiers.
Structure 6 may act as an automated facility like other parking structures in the Downtown area, but it is far from the typical parking facility. It was designed to incorporate all of the city’s needs in regard to efficiency, sustainability and functionality.
The attractiveness of the façade, for example, allows visitors to enjoy a colorful, artistic vision in the Downtown area, making it noticeably different from other parking structures. It also functions as a light-enhancement screen, bringing natural light deep inside the structure, minimizing the need for additional lighting until late afternoon.
Lastly, the façade provides an alternative exercise spot in Santa Monica, offering gorgeous ocean views from the diagonal staircase. The structure also features 7,000 square feet of street level retail space and 3,000 square feet of storage.
Structure 6 is the city’s most eco-friendly and interactive parking structure to date. It was designed to U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED silver standards, and it is tracking to accomplish the gold standards.
The garage features 744 spaces, enclosed bicycle racks for 72 bicycles on the ground level, additional bicycle racks on the sidewalk with room for another 40 bikes, 30 electric vehicle charging stations on various levels, and 80kW system solar panels on the roof that power the structure.
It’s also equipped with a parking guidance system, allowing for faster parking causing fewer vehicle emissions. The parking availability data also broadcast through the city parking website and phone app.
The challenges that emerged from demolition to construction of Parking Structure 6 started before closure of the old structure. The site functioned as a facility for both monthly and transient parkers, serving thousands of vehicles per day. This in itself was a major challenge. Where were these vehicles going to park in a city that already had overcrowding in the Downtown parking structures?
Several meetings took place between the city’s parking operations team and stakeholders in order to assemble the best possible plan.
Its implementation started months before the closure of Structure 6, offering discounted monthly parking and free bus passes to a less utilized city structure just outside the core area of Downtown Santa Monica.
These monthly parkers that initially volunteered to relocate were guaranteed first priority in returning to Structure 6 when it reopened. The results, while productive in relocating all of the monthly parkers from Structure 6, were less than desired and sent all of us back to the drawing board.
A solution for the transient parkers had to be created, and fast; the Downtown parking structures were offering lower turnover, causing occupancy to remain above 95% most of the day. In October 2012, we implemented a citywide parking rate adjustment in order to curb the turnover and occupancy issues.
The concept of this rate structure was to offer deeply discounted parking at the less utilized structures for both monthly and transient parkers. We also provided a “frequent parker debit card,” which was offered to all employees in the area. It provided an even deeper discount for an all-day transient parker, and was designed to appeal to hourly employees who were required to pay for their own parking.
The new rate structure focused on retaining the short-term parking rate to as low at $1for the first 2½ hours, and increased the all-day rate in the Downtown area by 40%. What was the outcome? A successful parking plan that allowed us to relocate more than 1,000 all-day parkers out of the core Downtown area and free up short-term parking for visitors and shoppers. It also provided affordable parking for Downtown employees. It was a win-win situation for all involved.
Other challenges occurred after the relocation plan was implemented and turned successful. Incorporating all of the features into one structure was not an easy task and posed several additional unforeseen steps.
The new facility layout surpassed the height limit, causing the city to apply for exceptions in order to build a slightly taller structure. Fifteen of the 26 disabled spaces were van accessible, requiring taller height clearance, which would allow for only 580 parking spaces.
The goal was to incorporate more than 720 spaces into the design. To do this, additional construction costs were incurred to build below grade. The structure design was finalized with eight stories tall and 3½ floors below grade.
Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould said that we have made the most of this valuable Downtown space. Hours of planning, design and discussions went into the construction of this parking structure in order to make it the best fit for this City.
Going back to my personal mission statement, “Leave Something Behind,” I leave you this – a sustainable parking facility that will help shape the future of Santa Monica and encourage other cities to follow suit.
Is it worth $64,000 a parking space just for construction, and carrying $45 million bond for one single parking facility? There are tangible and intangible values that we cannot put a price tag to. This parking structure will leave something behind not only for me the city of Santa Monica and even the parking industry, but also for everyone to enjoy.
Contact Frank Ching, City of Santa Monica Parking Administrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from March, 2014