Pejman: A parking disaster is coming to an Arts District near you

The Scottsdale Arts District is about enter the Twilight Zone.

In the near future, available parking spaces in the Arts District will become a rare commodity.

Bob Pejman

Before we look into the future, let’s take a brief look at the past: The Arts District has had a parking issue for years during peak season and special nights such as Art Walk due to a shortage of public parking and the fact that most of the merchant’s buildings don’t have parking spaces behind them for their employees.

In the meantime, during the past 20-plus years, every time a property owner or merchant approached the city to get a usage permit that required more parking, the city simply allowed the use without actually requiring the property owner to provide parking spaces.

Instead the property owner purchased “phantom parking spaces” (ones that didn’t exist) in exchange for a hefty fee for each parking space that didn’t exist. Recently, some of these spots were sold as high as $13,087 per spot.

The once-noble idea was that with the accumulation of the “in lieu fees,” an In Lieu Parking Fund would get funded and when enough money accumulated in the fund, the money would be spent towards the building of parking garages to address the increased parking demand. The last time that the city built such a parking garage in the Arts District was the underground garage by the Museum of the West known as “Main Street Plaza Parking Structure.”

According to city documents, it cost $2.4 million to construct this 130 spot garage back in 2006.

That was 13 years ago, and this garage is now at near or over capacity at times of peak usage. And since 2006, the parking demand has increased in the Arts District.

Partially because the city has also allowed several employee/visitor intensive tenants to setup their businesses in the Arts District.

The existing situation is about to get a lot worst to a point of reaching “crisis-level” due to myriad new developments that are coming to the area.

The first one is the 176 room Canopy Hilton which is breaking ground this week. Also, coming soon are the 121 condos on Main Street between Goldwater and 69th Street.

Add to this a submitted plan to develop the present gavel lot on the southwest corner of 1st Avenue and Marshall Way that is currently being used as a parking lot for Coach House as well as Valet Service for a local restaurant.

And yet there’s more: Every one-story building in the Arts District is now up-zoned to be built as a 3-story building, and most properties have paid for enough “phantom” parking credits through the city’s In-Lieu Parking program in the past to be able to expand upwards without having to provide much of their own parking.

What they were counting on was adequate parking garages that the city was supposed to build with their in lieu parking taxes.

But the largest planned development yet will be Museum Square which will consist of a 13-story 190 room hotel with a 6,000-square-foot restaurant and Fitness Center, as well as four residential condo complexes with 469 bedrooms, and plans to hold special events on the hotel grounds.

Most of the gallery owners and merchants support Museum Square and Canopy hotel … but as long as there is adequate public parking that will be required to support all of their off-shoot parking needs.

I am referring to parking spaces for their employees, guests, and service people. According to the City of Scottsdale, Museum Square and the Canopy hotel are adequately “self-parked.” In other words they have adequate “private” parking. But nowhere in the city documents is it mentioned where the designated employee or guest parking is.

That’s because they don’t “specifically” exist, and are lumped in with their private parking spaces. And the city doesn’t really care where the employees and guests park as long as they follow a formula of required parking spaces per number of rooms (for example 1.2 or 1.5 spaces per room), and then city planning staff downgrades that number because they firmly believe that ride sharing inventions such as Uber and electric scooters will decrease the parking needs.

Uber — yes. But electric scooters? Are they serious?

Of course, the result of all this mis-planning and under-parking allocation by the city is that each of the newly approved developments’ parking needs will overflow and “cannibalize” the local public parking spaces, which are already a rare commodity in this tight business district. How can they not?

If there are no “designated” parking spaces for employees, guests, and service people in these new developments, why would we assume that they will not take up the public garage or street parking spaces? And that’s cause for alarm: For the merchants, and for their customers.
But at least there is a silver lining: The fact that the city is selling the Loloma land to the Museum Square developer for $27.5 million can be actually viewed as the creation of a windfall that can be used to re-invest in the area.

It can actually make up for the city’s lack of planning for the building of extra public parking in the Arts District. But that only works if the city re-invests a small portion of this windfall (ie: 10 – 20 percent) in building more public parking.

If not, all of the positives of Museum Square and Canopy hotel developments will be more than offset by their negative effect of depleting the immediate area’s supply of precious public parking.

Right now, many conspiracy theories are floating around.

My own favorite is that the city is purposefully creating a parking crisis in downtown to pave way for the justification of parking meters and eventually light rail. The city can put these conspiracy theories to rest by building more public parking spaces. Especially in the Arts District, where the current density and height is about to go through a massive increase.

Editor’s Note: Bob Pejman is a Scottsdale resident and owns Pejman Gallery in downtown Scottsdale.

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