Downtown Parking Garages to be Sold

In today’s Daily Progress, Brian McNeill writes that Charlottesville Parking Center Inc. intends to sell off their Water St. surface lot, the land that the Water St. parking garage is on, and 284 spaces in the Water St. garage. Water Street GarageThe organization long insisted that there was no danger of any such thing happening, pointing to their mission of 48-year-old mission of providing inexpensive parking downtown rather than profit-seeking. The trouble is that those pillar-of-the-community types are all elderly or deceased (i.e., Hovey Dabney), leaving a business that’s as interested in profit as any other. Former city manager Cole Hendrix seems to figure that’s it, telling the Progress that “now that the CPC people are retiring or passing away, like Hovey Dabney, maybe it’s the beginning of the end of an era.”

It was hard not to see this coming, particularly given last July’s news that CPC was raising rates while seeking to sell off their open lot. Now the city is entirely reliant on this private corporation to make downtown work, a corporation that in no way resembles the one that the city has come to count on. (It was only a few years ago that the city sold off the final free parking lot to a private developer, who put up that hideous rich-folks condo on the corner of Fifth and Water.) That’s launched an interesting debate within the city as to what the proper response is for the city. Mayor David Brown tells the Progress that the city should try to buy the parking lots from CPC, but Councilor Kevin Lynch counters that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to reward a company for treating the city so badly.

If you’ve got any advice for the city on this, I expect they could use it.

18 thoughts on “Downtown Parking Garages to be Sold”

  1. Buying the garage is a bad idea, not just because the city would be rewarding the company for treating it badly. The garage is hardly what I’d call efficient. I gave up on it after it took me an hour to get out one Friday night; the traffic was worse than Friday afternoons on 29. Even more annoying is the fact that the people who work there are sometimes in such a bad mood that they’ll charge you for the hour you were sitting in there. This can’t possibly encourage travelers to come back.

  2. At the very least I think that the City should seriously consider buying the open lots (not necessarily the garage). There is no way that they will remain as parking if anyone but the city gets a hold of them. There’s too much money to be made by building on them.

    Sure, they don’t want to reward a company that they see as having treated them badly. But excuse me for not really caring in the slightest. I’m a lot more concerned with myself and everyone else at my company having a place to park when we drive to work downtown every day. I don’t want to hear any crap about taking the bus. It’s just not practical for everyone. We’re driving cars, we provide a lot of tax money to the city and we expect the city to provide for this basic transportation infrastructure needed to keep doing business here.

    Swallow your pride and buy the parking lots. It’s the least that Council can do after unlawfully selling that lot on the corner of 5th & Water without public hearings.

    As for the garage, nobody is going to tear down something that large and expensive. It will stay as parking no matter what. I would tend to think that it would be prohibitively expensive for the City to buy that.


    When thousands of cars are all trying to leave a parking garage at once it’s just going to take a long time. Tough crap. I assume you were downtown for a concert or something? To be totally honest with you, I could care less whether travelers come back. This is my home. This is where City Hall is and the Post Office and the Library. It does not exist for the sole purpose of tourists to prance about with cameras in hand. The primary duty of the City government is to attend to the needs of it’s people. The citizens who live here and the business owners and employees who are here every day and make up a part of this community. The typical woman working downtown for $8 an hour is currently giving up 25% of her income – straight off the top, every hour – just to park her car in the Water Street garage each day. What’s going to happen to her if rates double? Excuse me if I’m a little more interested in her well-being than that of Hokie tourists.

  3. I also think it would be unwise to lose the parking spaces in the open parking lot. I fully support the use of public transportion, but in our town and most towns, some level of parking needs to be available for businesses to function. Too many people will stop going downtown if there is no parking available.

    Having said that, it seems inappropriate to use such a large space downtown for one parking lot. This is when we need some innovative design folks to starting thinking. Perhaps we could have a few levels of public parking below ground and a few above with residences on several stories above that. Or put parking below ground with retail and office above. Or take the back half of the property for a tall parking garage and build office/residential on the other half, but make them blend together somehow.

    Somehow the city does need to control what is built on this site. If they can do that without having to actually buy it, that would be preferable.

  4. Actually, I’m not a “Hokie tourist”…I live in Albemarle, I can look out my window and see Charlottesville, and I will be moving to the city in the summer and paying taxes there, just like you. And I was not downtown for a concert…it was a regular Friday night, and this wasn’t the first Friday night that I got held up for a good chunk of time in the parking garage. Perhaps I just have unfortunate timing and leave the ice park at the same time as a movie gets out, who knows.

    You might not give a crap about the tourists, but the city apparently does, given all the signage around the area. If they want to bring in tourists, then they should want parking accomodations that make it easy for both the locals and the tourists to enjoy downtown. I wasn’t suggesting that I want rates to increase or that I don’t feel for those who work downtown and have to give up large portions of their income just to park…I just feel that while the city is looking at parking options, they should consider that the Water Street garage is not the best-designed place to attract people downtown, the people who keep businesses like yours going.

  5. Don’t forget about the super two-block development. I thought it was in the cards. It includes that open lot, the Farmer’s Market lot, the H&R Block building, the lot behind it… everything between Water and South Streets. Isn’t there a prize competition out to architects for the best plan? Who sis funding that prize, several tens of thousands of dollars? I thought it was the city. And that they want a modern design, like the Live Arts building across the street. Sorry if everybody already knows this, but I did not see it in the comments above.

    I guess the big plan means that however ownership shakes out, the city will try to see it is developed it in that model: mixed use with parking, like the lovely building on Water & Fifth, the old “C&O parking lot.”

    Now compare the county. They make big plans, Places29 has a big web site, and then they let the self-interested developers change all those fancy plans for a parallel road (Berkmar extended to the airport).

    If you can even understand this stuff, you get a blue ribbon. That’s why you need trustworthy politicians I guess:

    Hollymead developers outflank Places29 plans
    by Jayson Whitehead
    White hats ward off design change in new “town center”
    C-Ville Weekly Issue #19.11 :: 03/13/2007 – 03/19/2007

    So are the Chalottesville politicos trustworthy?

  6. I think Jack’s position above is exactly the suburban mentality that got us 29 North. Obviously this isn’t the opinion of all, or we wouldn’t see any thriving downtowns anywhere in America unless the local government provided a free parking space for every person living, working, or shopping there. People with this mentality would be better off locating their businesses in a suburban location. If access and parking are the most important considerations, suburbia is the clear choice.

    Downtowns continue to exist (and in fact thrive and grow these days) because there is another mentality where proximity, quality of life, and visual interest are ranked above access. Sure, you still need to move to it and around it, but this isn’t the factor that drives all desicions. This one is my mentality – so, I can’t see any possible advantage to the city buying an empty lot and keeping it that way so you can park 100 cars on it. The purpose of downtown is density and mixed-use, and so this lot should be built on. The 100 parking spaces could easily be integrated into the building.

    I’m not sure where the idea comes from that the city is responsible for providing free or low cost parking downtown. If you chose to locate in the suburbs, would you expect the locality to purchase a lot next door to yours to provide parking for your customers and employees? Of course not. If a reserved parking space for your single-occupancy vehicle is important to you, then provide it yourself. I would rather see the city invest in public transportation, which can provide perfectly good access to the downtown without wasting nearly as much space as everyone parking their own car.

    The $8 an hour employee that Jack talks about could be taking the bus now, costing them $1.50 per day instead of $2 an hour. She could also park a few blocks away and walk.

    I think we’ve all seen the growth patterns that have come with door-to-door drive-and-park mentality, and I personally don’t like them. I think the reason we see growth in the downtown is the rejection of that system. I don’t think the downtown is in any danger of folding up and moving to the suburbs – we tried that before and it obviously didn’t work. I just feel that there are better ways to organize a city than around the car.

  7. Exactly. I work on the Downtown Mall, and there’s no way I’m paying $16 to park in the Market Street garage unless it’s pouring outside. There’s street parking on Garrett and other side roads back there, and it’s like a 5 minute walk. The poster above has it nailed with the “door-to-door drive-and-park” mentality.. yet there are so many complaints about traffic and expansion. Can’t have your cake and eat it too, sorry.

  8. Where are these thriving downtowns without cheap parking that also don’t have very efficient, frequent and 24/7 public transportation? Because I don’t know of any. Charlottesville has a long way to go before it has decent public transportation by any reasonable standard. And what about folks who live in the country? Do we want them to stop coming into town to shop?

  9. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that the city has been played/screwed yet again by a development/business interest!

    That said, this is not necessarily terrible news…the city can and should improve public transportation into our downtown. We desperately need that. I agree with hokiesareawesome – the current traffic setup/flow downtown is a joke, and like Chad, when I need to be downtown, I park over on Garrett and walk – it’s faster and therefore more convenient. There is nothing wrong with the increasing traffic density and parking rates will reflect what the market is willing to bear. It would be nice if the city would actually quit negotiating for stupid voluntary promises from business developers and instead simply demand up front concrete committments about design – including traffic flow – that result in better final outcomes. The Market Street Garage is nearly inaccessible – it ought to have high-flow egress/ingress to Ridge in particular, but also to Avon/Monticello.

    I’d say a parking/retail combo development for the 2 block design, along with a re-design of the Market Street traffic engineering to dramatically improve access to major arteries is way overdue. Pedestrian bridges from the parking garages are needed (wasn’t that in the original design?).

    Personally, I’d be happy if the crappy bus service ran on time to begin with…I work at UVa, and try to take the free trolley downtown all the time – I can only count on seeing them 1x an hour (they get bunched up on the schedule), and it’s often literally faster to walk from the stadium to the mall than to try to use the bus service…that’s pathetic.

  10. Where are these thriving downtowns without cheap parking that also don’t have very efficient, frequent and 24/7 public transportation? Because I don’t know of any. Charlottesville has a long way to go before it has decent public transportation by any reasonable standard.

    Right, because C-ville isn’t big enough. You can’t compare it to places like DC, Boston, NYC, or even ‘second-tier’ cities, as the population simply isn’t there to support a mass-transit or 24/7 public transportation system like you suggest.

    There is nothing wrong with the increasing traffic density and parking rates will reflect what the market is willing to bear.

    ding ding ding, we have a winner.

    perhaps it’s because I’m coming from fairfax/DC, but I see nothing dramatically wrong with the downtown parking situation. if you want to pay to park close, yeah, it’s not cheap. but unlike so many other places, you have the option to park a couple blocks away .. for free! .. and walk.

    the last thing I want to see is *more* parking lots, encourgaging people to drive more and increasing traffic congestion, which is much more of a problem than a lot charging $2/hour.

  11. unlike so many other places, you have the option to park a couple blocks away .. for free! .. and walk.

    You do, but not for long. Ten years ago, Garrett St. was wide open for commuters. Now it’s full up come 9am, a result of more people working downtown and development along South and Garrett. Monticello is undergoing the same transformation now (ACAC-led), which will be complete when the Ix Building is done. Development like this is happening all around downtown. Look at that enormous building going up on…what is that, 7th Street? On the other side of Market, just up the hill, towards Little High.

    The ring of free parking is expanding ever farther from downtown. Once it exceeds a five minute walk, it’s over. (A five-minute walk being the standard used by urban planners to determine the maximum radius for a walkable community.)

    the last thing I want to see is *more* parking lots, encourgaging people to drive more and increasing traffic congestion, which is much more of a problem than a lot charging $2/hour.

    I’m not sure that anybody’s proposing more parking lots. We’ve lost an enormous amount of parking downtown in the past decade — on-street parking and free lots alike have given way to commercial developments. The open lots on Water St. will inevitably be developed, another two blocks of parking, gone.

    If new parking lots aren’t built to replace the spaces that we’ve lost in the past few years, and are about to lose on Water St., market forces are going to dictate that the existing lots are going to get crazy expensive — a lot more than $2/hour. That will just dig Charlottesville deeper into its Aspen hole, making it more and more of a city affordable only by the wealthy.

  12. I would like to believe market forces will work out the problems, like they always have. If parking gets too expensive and there’s not enough of it, then there will be a stronger push for light rail/trolleys/better bus service/whathaveyou.

    While Garrett does fill up around 9am, there are other side streets off of it still within the 5 minute walk radius that are free when I pull in at 9:30. Sure, that will eventually go away, but I imagine the people taking those up are people who work on or around the mall. In the afternoon/evening, those clear out, I forget what time that street is no parking, starting at 9pm? If the demand is there though, the city will eventually change it. Market forces again. :)

    If people earning $8/hour on the mall are parking in a $2/hour garage, they are simply making a bad choice. What would be nice is if some of the employers were able to provide parking compensation.. eventually as the situation gets worse, those who want to hire quality employees will. Viva la market force.

    All that being said, it is a bit ridiculous that if I were to park in a garage here, I’m paying basically the same as I would that I paid to park in DC. Fortunately, I have the option of walking, and the Market Street garage provides free motorcycle parking. It’d be nice to see the city visibly encourage that a bit more instead of the “park the bikes in this unmarked area and you won’t get charged” bit, which I didn’t figure out for a while.

  13. Advice for the city: stop waiving the required parking component of new construction.

  14. Thoughts:

    Speaking honestly, if the parking lots go away, I become much less likely to bop downtown for fun or shopping. Go ahead, slam my suburban mentality, my door-to-door drive-and-park demands.

    I would suggest, however, that there’s a difference between demanding that there be an individual free parking lot right next to every single business that you want to visit (like, one for the CVS on the Mall, one for Escafe, one for the Ice Park, etc.) and asking that there be a good-sized city-ish for-fee lot within reasonable walking distance of the Mall (and “reasonable” is a subjective term, of course, but for me the lots could be further from the Mall than they currently are and I would still be happy.)

    For me, it’s not the issue of having to walk some distance; it’s not like I expect the Mall to be Walmart. It’s the guarantee, or the near-guarantee, that matters. Most of the time I visit the Mall I bring my two small children. We go to the Discovery Museum, get pizza, gelato, maybe hit the toy store. It’s just not appealing for me to contemplate loading them and the gear (stroller, diaper bag, etc.) into the car, driving to the Mall (sorry, urba-philes, but I live out 20N and I don’t think that should qualify me for contempt), driving around side streets looking for a spot (and the gorgeous bounty of available street spots that Chad Day describes might disappear if the lots disappear—it could be that there are spots on Garrett BECAUSE lots of people are parking in the surface lot!) and not knowing how long it’s going to take with my eager-to-get-out kids in the back seat starting to fuss and not know what/where I’m going to find something. If the weather is bad, I’m even less likely to undertake this. Forget it, I’ll take them somewhere else for the day.

    Currently, I know that if I go downtown during the day, I am all but certain to find a parking spot either in the metered lot, the surface lot across from Live Arts, or (last resort) the garage. Without that certainty, I’m only going downtown on the rare date-night with my spouse or if I have some business down there. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in feeling this way. but maybe we’re soon to find out.

  15. For me, it’s not the issue of having to walk some distance; it’s not like I expect the Mall to be Walmart. It’s the guarantee, or the near-guarantee, that matters.

    Excellent, excellent point.

  16. Good points. I’m not sure where the city is on this, but last I checked we had no parking plan and no strategic transit plan. I’d really like to see a united transportation and land use plan that prepares the city for the next ten, fifty, and one thousand years. I’m serious, I think a project of this scope would get everything on the table so we could actually get a grip on what to do. I have some ideas, of course, but we really need to look at this systematically.

  17. I’d be a lot happier if the Market Street garage could simply become sophisticated enough to post a sign when they are full.

  18. Lord, yes. What an enormous waste of time it is to circle clear to the top and clear back to the bottom only to have to go to a different garage.

    C-Ville Weekly reported a couple of weeks ago that VNB is opening a Pantops branch. To my surprise, I thought that was great news, because it means that I don’t have to deal with parking to go to the bank. As Cecil said, there’s nothing wrong with walking, I just want to know that I’ll be able to get a space, and I want to know that I don’t need to hunt for 15 minutes to do so.

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