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Staff develops plans for parking division for city

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 by Mark Richardson

The city’s push to form a parking enterprise could move a step closer to operation, as the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee heard a staff recommendation Monday that the full Council consider hiring a parking manager to lead the operation. A staff report on the Austin Parking Enterprise on Monday also suggested that the city hire a consultant to help develop the Enterprise’s business plan.


The Austin Parking Enterprise, mainly the project of Council Member Brewster McCracken, is designed to finance, own and operate all of the city’s structured parking facilities to generate revenue for other city projects, such as the proposed Mueller to Bergstrom Light Rail Line.


Since the city would have to do an RFP to find a consultant, the matter will likely be decided along with next year’s budget.


According to the staff report, the next step would be to create a Parking Division within the city, which would consolidate parking functions from several existing departments, including Public Works, Economic Growth and Development Services, Building Services and the Convention Center.


“We would also look at public-private partnerships on a case by case basis,” said McCracken, who is chair of the LUT committee. “There may be opportunities to partner with private enterprises to boost parking capacity and revenues. We want these to be cutting-edge parking facilities, with solar panels, hook ups for plug-in hybrids and a uniform system for payments, similar to TxTAG.”


However, other members of the panel, Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley and Council Member Sheryl Cole, are a bit more circumspect about the Parking Enterprise.


“I think we’re going have to have some special expertise in working with these issues because each site has to be assessed to see if this is financially feasible and viable.” Dunkerley said, “So I think this would be one of the first things that we need to do. Probably we need a consultant first and then we need to make a decision as to where this parking enterprise will be–whether it will be under building services with the current parking facilities are, or whether it should be located in another department or wherever. So that’s just an issue that the city manager has to decide.”


Council member Sheryl Cole, also on the committee, said “I don’t think we actually need a parking manager but we need someone at least Director level to develop a business plan for the parking enterprise.  Cole said the city needs to do a pro forma statement on how the parking revenues would be used to retire debt from bonds sold to build parking garages.  I don’t think we need a consultant to do that analysis,” she said.I think our chief financial officer could do that.


Council Member Lee Leffingwell, who is not on the subcommittee, told In Fact Daily, “My recollection of the resolution creating the parking enterprise is that each project would have to show ‘stand-alone’ profitability.  I look forward to seeing the financial analysis on this.  Also, I would like to see details on the project – how will retail, low cost housing, venue, etc – fit into a City-owned facility?” 


The staff suggested that that the parking lots would be operated by the parking division foundation, into which would flow all user fees and enforcement fines. The report identified parking garages at Waller Creek Center, the Convention Center (5th Street and 2nd Street facilities), City Hall, Palmer Events Center, Town Lake Center and One Texas Center.  Those facilities hold a total of 5,160 parking spaces.


It also identified surface lots near the Waller Creek Center, One Texas Center and the Terrazas Branch Library as well the proposed redevelopments at the Green Water Treatment Plant and the Seaholm Power Plant.


The surface lots near One Texas Center and Terrazas Library are potential  redevelopment projects, which could have ground-level, storefront retail along with multi-level parking. McCracken also noted that the One Texas Center lot is the site of the former Armadillo World Headquarters.


“We could revive the Armadillo with a music venue, or perhaps housing for Austin’s musicians on the site,” he said. “It would be an appropriate way to redevelop that location.”


Dunkerley said, “There is a big demand for parking in that area with the events that are always downtown, the lakeshore and at the Long Center. Since it is on the site of the Armadillo, we need to do something that commemorates that. We do have a plaque there already but I mean something significant. So I would hope with the consultant’s help they could come up with something, some ideas.”


The staff report outlined Austin’s “Garage of the Future,” in which payment and transportation options would be aligned with meters, buses, rail lines and other forms of transportation. It would include parking for bicycles and other two-wheelers, would include charging facilities for plug-in hybrids, and space for car-share programs. It would also use alternative power supplies, such as solar panels, solar collectors, etc.

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