Dude, where’s my Old Town Scottsdale parking spot?

Downtown redevelopment stokes parking fears yet to materialize

Posted 2/11/20

A much-anticipated conversation around Old Town Scottsdale’s parking woes illustrate the need for better advertisement, signage and distribution of available spaces for motorists looking to …

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Dude, where’s my Old Town Scottsdale parking spot?

Downtown redevelopment stokes parking fears yet to materialize


A much-anticipated conversation around Old Town Scottsdale’s parking woes illustrate the need for better advertisement, signage and distribution of available spaces for motorists looking to spend time downtown.

While the question of just how much parking is available, or needed, was not readily available during a Feb. 11 study session on the topic, the city’s elected officials appeared to agree that some changes need to be sought. From more available signage, to simply publicizing where parking can be found, Scottsdale City Council agreed their parking system is not perfect.

Of the reported 18,000 public and private parking spaces in Old Town Scottsdale, the issue appears to settle on the fact that motorists are not aware --- or simply can’t find --- where to go to park when they arrive downtown.

Secondly, as development matures in Old Town the threat of available parking being replaced looms, officials say.

“I’ve been down to the ArtWalk on a Thursday night --- and maybe it’s directions --- if I went to the usual places [to park] the place is packed,” Mayor Jim Lane said of the Old Town situation. “If I go to the parking garages, the place is a ghost town. There’s nobody down there --- I almost am cautious to release that information, because I may lose that available parking.”

As Scottsdale recovered from the Great Recession, and development began moving forward, many Old Town Scottsdale merchants and stakeholders began voicing concern over the amount of available parking in the area.

While some predicted the need for more parking, and others pointed to readily vast availability of parking spaces, the issue was brought to Scottsdale’s attention any time a new development was discussed for approval. Projects such as Museum Square and Southbridge Two --- both mixed-use developments with office space, residential units and hotel rooms --- fanned the flames of concern prompting the question: how will this work?

In anticipation of the City Council’s study session discussion, a citizen petition signed by more than 100 Old Town proprietors was submitted seeking parking requests.

The petition requests included:

  • Updating the downtown overlay parking requirements;
  • Modify the permanent in-lieu parking program;
  • Add an ordinance to designate public parking area in a “private/public” garage to be dedicated for use by the public and remain open and free; and
  • Add levels to the city’s existing parking garages in the Arts District.

Adequate, but not perfect

Parking in Old Town Scottsdale is a very complex topic, and an issue that is important to many people, Senior Planner Randy Grant explained, as he prepared to walk City Council through a lengthy presentation.

According to Mr. Grant, there are several policies that have guided parking management in Old Town:

  • Presumption of maintaining free parking;
  • Allow options for small lot owners to reinvest without making parking a “deal-killer”;
  • Bring more people to downtown to support businesses;
  • Promote efficient use of parking;
  • Provide adequate public parking within an acceptable walking distance;
  • Acknowledge parking needs in downtown and anticipate future needs, neither excessively under parking nor over-parking;
  • Accommodate special events/circumstances (spring training, Canal Convergence, Artwalks) that may cause parking shortages in some areas.

Studies and plans that cover parking in the area range from the downtown plan adopted in 1984, up to the most recent parking study in 2015.

“There are over 30 parking lots and structures distributed through Old Town. They total more than 6,600 parking spaces,” Mr. Grant said. “You can see from the map that they’re distributed in both large and small quantities, the idea being to provide space within a walkable distance. Preferably that you park once and walk, but recognizing the size of the downtown that you’re going to need to move around and you have public parking accessible from all locations.”

Up until 2005, on-street parking was counted toward meeting the adjacent property owner’s required parking. However, in 2005, the ordinance was changed to not allow that credit, reflecting that on-street parking is public parking.

Today, according to Mr. Grant, there are more than 2,361 on-street public spaces located throughout downtown.

Mr. Grant says between public and private spaces there are about 18,000 parking spaces serving Old Town.

“The Walker Study in 2015 is the most recent study that we have that looked at parking on the downtown basis --- it was focused primarily on the northeast quadrant, but it did validate assumptions in all parts of downtown,” Mr. Grant said. “It showed that the overall supply of parking downtown is adequate. It also demonstrated that it’s not perfectly distributed.”

Mr. Grant says parking management is a critical component to having an adequate parking supply, and the shortage of parking often relates to convenience and not supply or availability.

“Sometimes parking is not well-designated, and there can be a perception that it’s not available, when it, in-fact, is available, it’s just not recognized as being available,” he said.

Mr. Grant also pointed to changing trends in parking, including ride-share options and the potential future popularity of autonomous vehicles. However, he advised decisions should not be made solely on these potentials.

Overall, enhancements to consider proposed by city staff are:

  • Modify the in-lieu parking program;
  • Amend parking requirements in the zoning ordinance;
  • Enhance wayfinding to available parking;
  • Form strategic partnerships with the private sector;
  • Management of parking;
  • Data collection; and
  • Build more public parking.

Mr. Grant suggested increasing the use of two- to three-hour parking limit; temporary parking for special events; use of valet, ride share or alternatives to meet peak demand for events; and conducting a new parking study, as the last one is now five years old.

Purveyors of Old Town parking

Two business owners, Bob Pejman and French Thompson, who have both been at the forefront of the parking issue spoke during the study session.

Mr. Pejman says the parking petition that the property owners and businesses signed is not a complaint about the current parking situation.

“To clarify, the present parking situation in downtown is fine except for peak season and special events,” Mr. Pejman said, pointing to the recommendations that came out of the Downtown 2.0 study a couple of years ago. “The complaint is about tomorrow. What’s tomorrow? Downtown 2.0 recommended that we increase the residential population from about 5,000 to 10,000 --- that’s fine, I’m on board with that --- but when you do that, you have to look at the parking code.”

Mr. Pejman says the parking code for multi-family residential does not require any guest parking, and stipulates just one space per one bedroom unit.

“That’s kind of unreasaonable in my opinion. Guests exists, visitors exist, service people exist --- you can’t deny that they don’t exist,” he said. “A lot of these one bedrooms will have couples living in them with two cars. So suffice to say, that guests exist and some of these one bedrooms have two people --- so if you want to double the population of Scottsdale like that, you will have problems.”

Using maps, Mr. Thompson pointed to areas of Old Town that have full parking spots.

“I would like to point out, however, that there is the Stagebrush Theater --- no one is parking there. No one knows it exists, there’s no signage for anyone in the public to go find it. I’m going to be willing to bet that if anyone knew it was there that would be full too,” Mr. Thompson said.

Mr. Thompson says the parking issue may not exist in the summer or shoulder-season, but during spring training, art festivals, culinary events --- parking is lacking, and it affects the business owners.

“I think there’s a disconnect when we’re complaining about the parking. It sounds like we’re not for development. We have decided we’re very much pro-development, we just want high-quality development to happen in Scottsdale,” Mr. Thompson said.

“Scottsdale has the cache to have high-quality stuff. I’d like to see the parking requirements changed, (so) that these developers come in and do high-quality development and provide all the amenities that their tenants need. The way it is right now, they’re not --- literally, they’re so under-parked it’s amazing.”

Myriad suggestions for a complex issue

Scottsdale City Council members did voice a desire to look further into the realities of the Old Town parking situation.

Councilman Guy Phillips, and Mayor Lane agreed, some of the suggestions made by Mr. Grant are at the forefront of what the city needs to be doing.

“There’s significant evidence that the devaluation of a downtown goes hand-in-hand with increasing requirements for parking when in-fact it’s not utilized or it’s not needed --- so that pulls people away from our market,” Mr. Lane said.

“Now maybe some would just assume that would happen, but nevertheless, that is a concern.”

Mr. Lane, who has been historically vocal about smart planning for the future, said he sees a combination of the suggestions being implemented may ease the pressure and/or change it.

“What we’re talking about --- as Mr. Pejman said --- the future and some of the projections we’re talking about for the future may influence what we’re thinking now we may need,” Mr. Lane said.

Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp, who is a business owner, sympathized with what the Old Town merchants are experiencing as private partnerships between businesses decrease as property in the area is purchased. Ms. Klapp provided an example of restaurants, who contract to use private land for their valet parking.

“If they’re using valet parking they’re very afraid of, as land gets sold off, their private parking agreements for valet parking is going to go away,” Ms. Klapp said.

“I think that’s part of the reason why business owners and merchants have talked about the future --- they’re concerned as these properties get converted, renovated, re-developed, new uses come in that take away whatever available parking is there. Or, it might be a hotel that has no guest parking requirements, or it might be multi-family that doesn’t have guest parking requirements. That means more and more of the parking places will be taken up by whatever that new development is.”

In addition, she says in the retail business, people will not walk very far to go to a store.

“If you have the parking too far from them they will not go to your store, they will go somewhere else where the parking is more available because there’s too many choices,” Ms. Klapp said. “That’s part of the critical nature of the merchants that are downtown. They need to have the parking as close to them as possible to make sure their customers will actually come to them, and not drive around one time, give up and go somewhere else.”

Councilwoman Solange Whitehead suggested painting a big “P” on the roadways to signal to motorists that parking is ahead.

“Something where you’re driving and you guide people into these parking garages,” she said.

Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield also agreed with what many of her colleagues said.

“Downtown parking is an issue, and we need to get ahead of it now before it grows into a bigger issue. The complaints we hear about now, they concern the foreseeable problems of the future as we build more and more, double our population down there, build the hotels, build the businesses --- we’re going to have more and more need for parking,” Ms. Littlefield said, suggesting the city look at and find a solution for the Galleria’s parking habits.

“If the City Council never approves another mega-building in our downtown area, the ones we’ve already approved are going to demand more and more parking. People drive in here --- and I have heard it from day one --- that there is not enough parking. Also, if you can’t find a parking garage, and you don’t know where it is, it doesn’t exist. There’s no point in building a parking garage that no one knows where it is. Can’t find it, can’t use it, and has no way of looking for it. I really think using apps, painting the road if we have to, signs on the edge of the building saying ‘parking’ --- we need to make sure what we already have is known, can be found and is usable.”