Charlottesville officials suggested months ago that they may need a new parking garage downtown, but now they’re taking a step back.
“It’s just not at the top of the list at the moment,” city spokesman Ric Barrick said.
The findings from a long-awaited downtown parking study estimated that anticipated development over the next few years will spur demand for about 1,700 additional parking spaces during a typical business day, leaving city leaders to figure out how to accommodate an influx of vehicles. But as the economy continues to slide and developers struggle with projects, officials say that some of those projections might not hold true.
“A lot of things have changed,” Councilor Holly Edwards said.
At the time that the City Council was discussing the report’s findings, Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert said the city should try to find a location for a new garage, because ample time would be needed to figure out how to finance the facility and complete its construction.
The study said that the growing demand could not be accommodated solely by the roughly 800 spaces typically empty on a weekday in existing public off-street lots. Those lots include the 500-space Market Street garage and the 1,019-space Water Street garage.
“We need to start thinking now,” Tolbert said. The occupancy survey, completed by Raleigh, N.C.-based Martin Alexiou Bryson, was released in October and discussed by the City Council the following month.
But the 1,700 figure, for example, assumes that the redevelopment of two lots on Water Street would create a need for about 600 spaces downtown. Though the city government owns one of the lots, the other is owned by the private Charlottesville Parking Center Inc.
After unsuccessfully seeking a $17.5 million bid for its properties for months, CPC decided to pull its assets off the market. The decision — which hinders the city from purchasing the lot and subsequently redeveloping both of them — came the week before the parking study was released.
“Right now the climate from even a year ago is really different in terms of what’s going to happen development-wise,” Councilor David Brown said.
Chris Engel, the city’s assistant director of economic development, said the city has not begun to look at locations for a new parking deck because of a slowdown in development and the fact that the spaces are not needed immediately.
Because CPC’s decision cuts into the projected parking figure, “that would kind of delay things,” Engel said. The city had previously eyed multiple CPC-owned parking sites, including a 125-space surface parking lot, the land where the Water Street parking garage is located and 284 spaces in the garage.
Local architect and developer Bill Atwood, who is building the Waterhouse mixed-use project on Water Street, added that most projects trying to get under way now would not get necessary financing unless it included their own parking.
The study showed that Waterhouse would create demand for 88 parking spaces out of the total 1,700. But Atwood maintains that because his building is located one block from the Downtown Mall — and several other developments are in similar proximity to Charlottesville’s center — residents and workers would have no reason to move their cars to public spaces from the parking spaces that are already part of the project.
“They’re not going to park anywhere else,” he said.
Atwood said that because developers will increasingly provide their own parking, he does not think the city necessarily needs to build a new, public garage.
The study noted that many of the 5,000 existing off-street spaces during business hours remain empty, though the garages on weekends and during special events can get full or nearly full.
Brown said it is important to think in the long term, and said he would be interested in developing a “park and ride” system where area commuters park in a lot and use transit to come downtown. But for now, he said, “we have plenty of parking.”
“Where we’re going to be in a few years, no one can really predict where the economy is going to be,” he added. “There’s no rush.”