Parking: More Expensive Than We Thought

A dramatic reuse of an aging church for the new Stepping Stone Theatre required
a variance of 10420071129_lobby_2
spaces, or 92% of the requirement stipulated under the zoning code in St. Paul, Minnesota, meaning only 8% of the requirement is directly provided by the theatre’s property. Do the City’s parking requirements create a
structural oversupply of parking in the city? It’s likely. I will revisit
parking requirements in coming months, during which city planners and
stakeholders will engage the future of local parking policy. The focus of this post is to consider the
public cost associated with requiring developers to meet the parking
requirements currently in place.

Stepping Stone Theatre is a success story, providing
children with training and experience in acting and stagecraft. Shows in the new theatre on Victoria Street
sure to be well attended, leading the reader to ask:  How will the neighborhood accommodate the
parking needs during performances? The
theatre has arranged for patrons to park in existing surface lots at William
Mitchell College of Law, located across the street, and at the House of Hope
Church parking lot at Holly and Avon Streets one block away. A few scattered observations about the area
we can use for housing or other uses, due to the shared parking arrangement in
place for Stepping Stone:

• Each parking space requires 200-300 square feet of
space. If the theatre had been required
to purchase and renovate a site allowing them exclusive control and use of 113
spaces, surface parking would represent between 0.52 acres and .78 acres of
land committed to a conspicuously low level of land use and productivity. This area is equivalent to between five and
nine residential lots for single-family or duplex homes.

• A mixed-use development recently built in St. Paul, with structured
parking underneath, is valued at $157/square foot of the lot; at this level,
the area equivalent to 113 parking spaces would represent between $3.5 million
and $5.3 million of market value. In the
theatre’s new location, a site this size might accommodate 20-40 units of
housing or mixed use development, leading to enhanced property and perhaps
sales tax base.

The car is here to stay, so devising intelligent ways of
storing cars during their many hours of non-use is essential for cities serious
about their future
vitality and financial wherewithal
. Ideas worth exploration on this issue abound, but one in particular deserves
note: Adoption of a
payment-in-lieu-of-parking program. A
sample of potential benefits:

• Allow building owners unable to satisfy a parking
requirement to make payments to the City, parking authority or business
improvement district, in return for parking credits

• Proceeds would be devoted to capital financing for
structured and/or shared parking, and pay a parking liaison charged with
connecting parties for shared parking arrangements

• The City could be separated into a number of “parkingshed”
zones, so that payments would fund parking infrastructure and agreements in
relative proximity to property owners paying the fees

• Potentially, a local market for parking credits could be
established, further enhancing the efficiency of the program.

Parking policy is a confluence of real estate development,
public finance, transportation and land use, and hence advocates in each of
these realms get involved in parking discussions. In the theatre’s shared parking arrangements lies
one critical tool for cities, the leadership of which must be absolutely
focused on concentrating tax base with redevelopment and forward-thinking
approaches to land use.

Photo: Courtesy of
Stepping Stone Theatre.