By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Since the 1950s, the City of Flagstaff has known a lack of downtown parking was and would continue to be an issue for visitors, residents and city employees.
If approved by council next week, the city plans to implement a parking management plan over the next six-to-nine months, with revenue generated from the plan ultimately going toward the construction of between 300 and 600 parking spaces. Flagstaff Community Design and Redevelopment Manager Karl Eberhard estimates the cost to build garages with 600 spaces would be $14-16M, not including land costs.
A traffic study conducted by the city estimates a total need for 600 spaces. The initial idea, at present, is to create one three-level, 300-space facility and then consider a second one later if needed. The city is open to establishing a public-private partnership to develop the needed parking.
In Eberhard’s ideal vision, the parking structure or structures would be surrounded by a liner of retail or mixed-use operations both for revenue and aesthetic appeal. Flagstaff, more than most cities, strongly takes traditional architectural character into development planning. As such, Eberhard would not like to see a single monolithic structure, but rather one with elevations and appearance in keeping with the downtown area’s historic look and feel.
First Step: Managing Shortage and Raising Revenue with Customer Service in Mind
Under the parking management plan, downtown parking will be metered, and a parking permit program will be implemented for city employees and area residents. Eberhard estimates the revenue generated by the plan will let the city put approximately $400K a year toward the garage development.
Once the plan starts generating revenue, the city is considering leasing additional existing parking space that is under-utilized or available off hours. A mid-term step will likely be constructing new surface lots, with the garages being a long term goal. Eberhard notes, however, that the more money is spent on leasing and surface development, the less will be available for ultimate garage development.
To ensure the parking plan is customer service driven, rather than punitive, it will be administered through the city’s Economic Vitality Division, rather than traffic engineering or the police department. Regarding plan implementation and management, Eberhard said, “It’s a way to buy us more time and generate capital to build a garage, but at the same time we want to make it so that our customers are welcome, that they understand the system and are not getting ticketed except as a last resort.”
He added the goal is to encourage city workers to use employee lots and locals to use the bus and other transportation and parking options. “I don’t want my employees parking in front of my store. I want my customers parking there.”
As another customer service feature, the city plans to offer an app that will text users’ smartphones 15 minutes before their time expires and allow them to purchase additional time without returning to the meter.
The plan also includes efficiency enhancements, such as improved enforcement software that will enable parking staff to use smart phones for notification and processing. The city’s current process requires staff to note the ticket with pad and pen then enter information into three different computer systems for processing, ticketing and adjudication.
Vendors for the meter implementation have not been chosen, but the city hopes to choose a provider with a national purchasing competitive bid situation. Eberhard said the city learned a lesson when it tried to initially implement the plan eight years ago. Nearly 30 potential vendors responded, creating what he described as an administrative nightmare. “If we can go with a purchasing contract, we’ll try to do that first.”
City Open to P3 Development Opportunities
The city’s vision is flexible when it comes to what type of partnership proposals it would consider for the parking garage plan. Eberhard’s dream proposal would maximize administrative and developmental opportunities while minimizing municipal expenditures.
He said, “Parking, when properly managed, is capable of paying the operating costs and a good portion of the capital costs. If somebody could structure a deal for us that would reduce our cash outlay, that would be our biggest goal. We don’t have a lot of cash on hand, and doing a bond would be the equivalent of using our credit card. Our first choice is not to put up a bunch of cash if we can help it.”
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