For several years, the so-called parking problem in downtown Scottsdale has been the Cause Celebre among many downtown business owners, especially by a certain galley owner.
The cry has been that there is insufficient parking for their customers. Curb parking, it seems, is the stuff of neighborhood PSYOPS. It brings out the crazy in people.
It is certainly true that parking in the area, especially in tourist season, is problematic.
However, blaming and trying to stop new development (especially multi-family projects) as has been the mantra for years is not the correct approach to solving the issue as it is only leading to a stifling of downtown development, which is much needed to re-energize a deteriorating area.
As a former planning commissioner I am well aware of the parking complaints and I personally tried, on several occasions along with my colleagues on the commission, to urge the city staff to seriously address the issue and present to the commission a report with a viable solution.
Unfortunately, and for unexplained reasons, the planning commission’s requests were never properly addressed, with staff instead deferring to the city council for a solution. The problem with this approach is that the City Council lacks the expertise; training and planning background to solve this issue.
A review of a recent council meeting where this issue has been debated only serves to prove my point, especially when you witness councilwoman Littlefield talk about how hotels and large multi-family projects should be parked.
Parking needs for commercial projects are something upon which experts spend years obtaining advance degrees and on-the-job training to best understand and implement parking needs, sadly, only to be later be lectured to by the likes of Littlefield on what to do. It is an accepted axiom in architecture that “form follows function” except in Scottsdale, “form follows parking.”
Scottsdale is not alone in its parking dilemma, cities such as Austin; Old Town Pasadena; Tempe and Portland have had similar problems. Their solution involves charging people to pay to park. I understand that people don’t like to pay for what they’re used to getting for free, however if charging for parking solves the problem why not go there?
It has been proven that many of the parking spots downtown are taken for the entire day by employees of these same businesses. There is plenty of employee parking in nearby city owned lots and garages, however they are a couple of blocks away from the downtown center and why walk when you can park in front for free?
More builder funded garages are not a solution. For example, in the late 1980s, the Pasadena city manager at the time championed a plan to build a large downtown parking garage to address the parking crunch. It was built, but by the early 90s it had become clear that the garage was a money-loser, costing the city around $1 million a year.
With curb parking unpriced, motorists had little financial incentive to choose garage parking.
The city should consider forming something called a “parking benefit district,” funded by a portion of the $10 million dollars available in the recently approved city bond which has been set aside for just this issue.
The district could even be overseen by a downtown business owner’s council.
This district would cover all things parking to include meters or kiosks; revenue collection; parking enforcement; etc. The district could earmark parking revenues to be used to promote walking, cycling, and public transit use within the district. Revenues could also be used to keep sidewalks pressure washed; added street furniture; public art and seasonal flowers to name but a few uses.
Street meters could or could not be used. One process cities are using is to number spots and then have people pay at a solar powered kiosk at the end of the block.
Merchants could be given tokens by the district to give to actual customers to help pay for the parking (as has been the policy at the local Biltmore shopping center).
To continue adding spaces in downtown is not the solution.
As someone once said “Imagine a law requiring summer camps to stock enough ice cream so that every kid can have unlimited free vanilla or chocolate on demand. It’s a laughable notion. No one could run a camp that way. Almost all cities run their parking that way, though, and the main differences among cities’ parking rules are simply upon how much ice cream do they insist.”
Editor’s Note: Larry Kush is a 45 year Scottsdale resident; nationally recognized building expert and former Scottsdale Planning Commissioner.