Magazine

Point of View

Banks, Courtesy and Free Parking

By John Van Horn

Here’s a take I hadn’t considered: What if banks wouldn’t lend on a development if the number of parking spaces didn’t meet the industry average – even if the local zoning requirements had been removed and the number wasn’t required?
Developers are being caught in a “Catch 22.” Cities are following the lead of Shoupistas and removing parking requirements on development to assist in getting new buildings going in downtown areas. This helps in development, and certainly in attracting “sustainable” businesses into the areas. It makes sense in every way, until the developer goes to get his loan from the banks.
Here’s the banker’s quote, as reported in a Salt Lake Tribune story:
“We’re not going to make a loan without getting comfortable with the parking element and the parking strategy,” says Michael Morris, Executive Vice President of real estate for Zions Bank.
Other factors besides parking ratios also play a role, he says, including the overall economy and the mix of equity and debt.
Construction lenders could be “flexible” and approve transit-oriented projects, Morris says, so long as long-term lenders are content. But he predicts parking at housing units, regardless of location, likely will remain a premium.
“I don’t know if public transportation or fuel efficiency or the green movement is going to change that in the near term,” Morris adds, before pausing. “As a corporation, we’re open-minded and will participate in the dialogue. And we’ll do what makes sense.”
Sure, it sounds as if they can be “flexible.” But just show up with a parking spaces number that doesn’t meet their requirement and see what happens.
Think about the problem with housing units. By reducing the number of required spaces, the developer can unbundle parking from the building and lower the cost for housing. People who live near their work can forgo a vehicle, and all is right with the world.
Not going to happen if banks have their way. The newspaper article goes on to say that cities and developers are in an ongoing educational process with banks, but it is slow.
Just another problem in dealing with the recession, development and financing.
***
And I quote from an Associated Press story:
“La Crosse police are trying to be friendly to visitors of this western Wisconsin city during the height of fall tourism. Lt. Pat Hogan says the department is issuing visitor-friendly ‘courtesy’ parking tickets to first-time overtime parking violators.
“Mayor Matt Harter says the city can help downtown businesses by giving first-timers a break, along with providing as much parking as possible by enforcing existing rules.
“Since Oct. 4, community service employees have written 454 warnings, or about 18 a day. Of those, 306 were in downtown La Crosse. Previous violators still have to pay a $12 fine, after a $4 increase approved in March.”
Well, duh – I have been railing about this solution for years. It solves all PR problems and follows the rules as well.
This is just crazy ... Dewey Beach in Delaware is concerned that their increase in parking fines might drive people away. The logic is that higher fines mean people won’t come to park there.
Let me attempt to parse this. I want to go to the beach. I somehow find that the fine for improper parking is $50. I guess I plan to park improperly when I start out, so I decide to go somewhere where I know parking fines are cheaper so I will have to pay less.
Are they nuts? Is there anyone on the planet who actually starts out going to the beach, or anywhere on vacation for that matter, by making the decision based on how much they will have to pay when they get a parking ticket? Give me a break.
If the fines are onerous, fine, lower them. But arguing that people don’t come because they are too high …
From the article on delmarvanow.com, it seems as if there is no indication that, in fact, over the past two years, there has been a reduction in people coming to Dewey Beach for any reason.
And … as correspondent Mark points out: They are concerned that the parking fines are “unfriendly.” At what point does a parking ticket become “friendly”?
***
“Free parking is the prime reason (that) malls have grown so mightily over the years. Predatory parking enforcement in the downtowns might prove the death knell for a great many small merchants there unless it’s checked. Parking tickets are no small things for these enterprises. It’s really about time (that) this economic threat is recognized — and acted upon.”
The quotes above, from a columnist at The Moderate Voice blog, are typical of knee-jerk reaction to the reasons that malls have grown and downtowns have atrophied. Of course, this is absurd.
In Los Angeles, for instance, the two newest major malls in the city (The Grove and Americana at Brand), plus two major successful existing malls (Century City and Beverly Center), all charge for parking. That hasn’t kept people away. They come because there are reasons to go there.
Downtown Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade is hugely successful, and its six parking structures charge for parking. People go to the beach, but the county charges for parking. People go see the ballgame, the Hollywood Bowl, Disneyland, Universal – they all charge for parking. Why are they successful? Because people want to go there.
Why do downtowns fail? Because people don’t want to go there. If you want to make your downtown successful, make it so people want to go there. Santa Monica, Old Pasadena, CA, the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Atlanta Station, South Beach in Miami, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Pike Place Market in Seattle – they all charge dearly for parking and are extremely successful.
I love it. The columnist complains about predatory parking enforcement. I certainly agree. Set the rules so they fit the situation, then enforce the rules. If you don’t like them, fine. Call a meeting, get some facts and input, and then change them.
But to stop enforcement of the rules “just cuz” is ridiculous.
It’s not too early to wish you all the merriest of Christmases and a most happy holiday season. All the best.

Article Abstract from December, 2009




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