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Study suggests smarter parking needed downtown

Construction continues on the 1,100-space parking garage for the convention center and Omni Hotel being built at Oklahoma City Boulevard and E.K. Gaylord. Plans also call for an eight-story Boulevard Place apartment tower to be built along the north side of the garage. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Construction continues on the 1,100-space parking garage for the convention center and Omni Hotel being built at Oklahoma City Boulevard and E.K. Gaylord. Plans also call for an eight-story Boulevard Place apartment tower to be built along the north side of the garage. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]

To break it down, a six-story, 1,100-space garage owned by the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) is being built at 15 SW 4, while developer Gary Brooks is building a 700-space garage as part of redevelopment of First National Center into a hotel, apartments and retail.

Soon — very soon — we can expect to hear more about a garage set to be built at 1 E Main where a deal is set between BancFirst and developer Don Karchmer. That garage will add at least several hundred spaces to Bricktown.

And in the midst of this building spree, a recently completed 10-month study suggests downtown needs improved public-private coordination, a smarter approach to pricing and enforcement and less of a rush to build more garages.

Brett Wood, parking and transportation planner with Kimley Horn and Associates, presented maps to the city council last week that show that parking takes up 256 of the 1,200 acres surveyed between Interstate 235, Classen Boulevard, the Oklahoma City Boulevard and NW 13.

The next findings are even more startling when one realizes this study was created with involvement of COTPA, city public works engineers, traffic engineers and planners, private property owners, Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership and The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.

Districts represented were Bricktown, Deep Deuce, the City Center, Automobile Alley, Midtown and the Arts District (including Film Row).

For those who say they can’t find a parking space, Wood responds that 23,137 of downtown’s 36,881 “off-street” parking spaces are empty at peak conditions. That amounts to 186 acres of unused parking, an area that would span 141 football fields.

While almost all of downtown experiences peak use between noon and 3 p.m., Bricktown is the exception, with plenty of parking available in the first half of the day (yes, even at lunch) but is in high demand between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. (and into the evening).

And this brings us to a good question — why insist on standard pricing and enforcement throughout downtown when each area has its own set of challenges and opportunities?

Wood suggests extending paid curbside parking into the evening in Bricktown while citing a common interest in seeing increased enforcement along Automobile Alley, where some are taking up curbside spaces throughout the day.

Improved coordination among public and private parking owners could be achieved, Wood said, if COTPA followed the example of Sacramento and Tempe, Arizona, where the public entity sought to manage both public and private parking.

That approach, Wood said, allows for improving off-peak hours use of spaces, better educating the workforce and visitors, and overall planning. But will the private owners agree to such a change? Wood responds we will know only if pilot projects are attempted to prove the value of such coordination.

Credit Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher with asking whether the city should even be in the parking business. It is often forgotten that the creation of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority was partially born during the Urban Renewal rebuilding of downtown in the 1960s and 1970s. Wood responds cities that didn’t build public parking regret it years later as their economic development efforts are hampered by a lack of control over parking pricing and marking.

It’s interesting to note that of the original three garages built by COTPA, only one, the Cox Convention Center underground parking, is still owned by the city authority. The Santa Fe garage was sold last year to Continental Resources and BancFirst with agreements to maintain spaces for the adjoining Hilton Skirvin and other longtime tenants.

The Broadway-Kerr garage, meanwhile, was sold to SandRidge Energy in 2011 when then-CEO Tom Ward was predicting his company was set to grow to 1,500 employees with their new home at the 30-story former Kerr McGee Tower.

The company instead is virtually defunct with layoffs leaving only 57 people in that tower. There is absolutely not a parking scarcity for the area, yet proposals for housing one block away from the Broadway-Kerr garage both include structured parking.

Ideally, the way ahead might include a better turnover of garages with residents using spaces largely overnight and workers using those spaces during the daytime.

Wood suggests it’s time for Oklahoma City to slow down on building parking and to get smarter about how its existing spaces are priced, enforced and marketed. For a sprawling city of 621 square miles and a population used to cheap and easy parking, this is a task can’t be minimized and yet may be critical for urban growth in the city’s second century.

Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›

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