Lack of Municipal Parking Stunting Downtown Development

Walker Evans Walker Evans Lack of Municipal Parking Stunting Downtown Development
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When the Edwards Companies submitted a proposal to the Downtown Commission to construct a new six-story building on High Street between Gay and Long, many Columbus Underground readers expressed frustration with the building being too short for the area. When compared to the nearly-completed 12-story 250 High building or the proposed 17-story mixed-use Two25 building, six stories does seem a little short.

So why can’t this development go taller?

“The answer frankly, is parking,” stated Downtown Commission Member Kyle Katz, a fellow developer who has also experience with Downtown real estate. “It’s all a function of cost. To build underground or an above ground garage is incredibly expensive — somewhere around $35,000 to $40,000 per space — and providing parking is a function of market realities.”

Katz explained that the taller development around Columbus Commons has had the unique advantage of tapping into the existing parking infrastructure that formerly served the City Center Mall. Those garages are owned by Capital South and the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation (CDDC), nonprofit economic development arms of the City of Columbus. With over 4,500 parking spaces between the underground and above ground garages at Columbus Commons, it has allowed private developers to forgo the expensive construction of new parking spaces, and instead build more residential units and go vertical.

A similar development approach was taken for both the RiverSouth area and the Neighborhood Launch development in other parts of Downtown where parking was limited. The City of Columbus helped to fund a new 680-space parking garage at Fourth and Elm Streets and a 770-space parking garage at Front and Rich Streets to alleviate and consolidate surface lots that were being replaced by new residential development in those areas.

“Building a city garage makes it a viable option and while the development office would love to create more parking, there’s no option for it near Gay and High,” said Katz.

Kevin Wheeler, Planning Administrator for the City of Columbus Department of Development notes that the situation is certainly a paradoxical one.

“It’s ironic because Downtown Columbus still has so much surface parking in some areas, but in parts of the core, parking is really constrained,” he explained. “Its one of the challenges of building Downtown, but I know that CDDC is looking at those issues more broadly right now… there’s interest in solving that in a more systemic way.”

A new pilot program was announced by COTA in April to provide free bus passes to Downtown office workers in the hopes that subsidized transit would help to free up parking spaces for other uses like new residential development.

“Shifting just five percent of the workforce to bus ridership would free up approximately 1,800 parking spaces Downtown,” said Marc Conte, Deputy Director at the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, in April.

In the short term, development may continue to be stunted in height in the pockets of Downtown where parking is tightest, which is why the Downtown Commission did not pressure the Edwards Companies to go taller with their proposed development.

“It’s a very reasonable question to ask if a developer like Edwards can go higher with a project like this one,” said Katz. “And Edwards presented a very logical and reasonable argument as to why they can’t. It’s important for the Downtown Commission to have flexibility when addressing the economies and placements of these proposals — the guidelines are not gospel.”

For ongoing discussion on the Edwards Communities development, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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