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A Beautiful Garage? Or an Elephant of a Certain Co

(Parking Today met with a member of the board of the redevelopment district that pours money into the area of North Park, a section of San Diego. What follows is a PT opinion piece.)







North Park is an older section of San Diego, and the the city’s goal is to make it a “trendy,” “artsy” area of the city. So far, so good.



It generated money for the effort by setting a “base line” in tax collections, and then as the years went by and the place increased in value, gave the difference back to the redevelopment board and then it was used for new sidewalks, lighting, etc. It also was used to build a $14 million parking structure.



At first glance, the structure seems like a good idea. It's right across the street from a renovated live theater where plays are presented. It holds six stories of cars. There's only one problem – four have never been used in the year since the garage opened. OK, maybe once in a great while, but I would place a pretty large bet that no one has ever parked on the upper levels – there is no oil, and no tire marks.



The garage is good looking and well designed. It’s half a block from North Park's main street. Why isn't it full?



Well, you have to pay to park in the garage ($5 for all day, 50 cents for half an hour). However, if you park on the street, it’s free. You can park up to two hours and then you must move your car. The two-hour ballet.



Soooo, there has been no reduction in the number of cars that park in the local neighborhoods surrounding the North Park Business District, and no “freeing up” of spaces on the street. $14 million and what to show for it? A great garage or an elephant of a certain color?



PT was told that the redevelopment district has been “talking” about charging for on-street parking, but the businesspeople are out of control, the redevelopment board is waffling and, of course, parking is still difficult.



The problem may be that the redevelopment money is coming from tax dollars and not being generated by parking revenue. Had they floated some bonds and then set up pay parking, everyone would see all the new sidewalks (they are pretty), the street lights, signage, trees and the new garage and say, “Wow, I don’t mind paying a bit to park.” However, the reverse is true. They have the money, seen the results and there you are.



As for the neighborhood, they need to do some work. It’s older and many of the stores and shops reflect a neighborhood in decline. Laundromats, pizza parlors, a storefront church, a pawn shop, dry cleaners. Certainly stores you would see in a neighborhood mercantile center, but not a “trendy,” “artsy” area.



I know nothing about attracting such places to an area. Maybe they could call Culver City, CA, an area similar to North Park but in Los Angeles. Culver City has turned its downtown into a showplace. Great restaurants, a Trader Joe’s, multiscreen movie theaters, very expensive shops. Not five years ago the description of North Park in the previous paragraph would have fit Culver City.



The difference is that in Culver City, a 12-plex stadium-seating theater was built. It is a draw. Every night and on weekends, people flock to the area to see movies. The restaurants and shops came because the people came. It’s a delicate balance.



In the meantime, North Park needs to get its parking act together and set up a permit zone for the neighborhood, pay parking in the on-street area, and drive all those employees into the garage (maybe even lower the price in the garage, or provide a very low monthly rate for the upper floors, or whatever).



Our suggestion to our contact was that they charge to park in front of his house, which is in that neighborhood a couple of blocks away. He was horrified until I mentioned that he could buy an annual permit for a much lower rate for his car than what others would pay and that money would go into his neighborhood to replace the sidewalk or street lamps and trim the trees. He thought that was a great idea.



As far as PT is concerned, this is a poster child for part of a parking plan, but one that wimped out on what really needed to be done. They could have charged for parking up front in all the areas and most likely found the 150 or so spaces that are being used in the new garage. If merchants were worried about on-street charges, they could have picked up the cost for their clients. They may have been able to put off the garage (and the $14 million) for a few years.



Sure, it might have meant on-street valets (that’s trendy), employees might have had to walk three blocks from parking to work, or that shuttles might have had to have been installed to ferry in people from nearby lots. All that means a lot of frenetic activity, and that means good business, and it means fun. And people come to have fun.



PT also learned that the zoning hadn’t been changed. I asked what would happen if someone wanted to put a restaurant in that laundromat was told they couldn’t do it. Not enough parking. But I said there was an empty garage not 100 feet away. Yes, he said, but those were the rules. Where is Don Shoup when you need him?



Best of luck to North Park and its polar elephant.

Article Abstract from May, 2007




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