Examining parking policy from an urban perspective

The City of Cincinnati requires one parking space per residential dwelling unit throughout all four sub-districts of the Downtown Development District. For office uses there is one parking space required for every 750 to 1,200 square feet of office space.

These parking facilities could range from initially cheap surface lots to costly structured parking garages. Both facilities have the potential to severely damage the urban fabric in spite of design guidelines in place to improve their appearance. In addition to this damaging effect, the cost of parking is extraordinarily high in urban locations as parking spaces can cost between $20,000 and $30,000 per space in a structured parking garage. While surface lots are cheaper to construct, they squander valuable land and thus shoulder the cost of wasted revenues for local government and private land owners.

Thousands of parking spaces are being constructed underneath The Banks development with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

The high costs of parking are immediately passed on to the customer (tenant) which results in one of two things. 1) The price points go so high that many are priced out of the market; or 2) The costs become too much for the developer to be able to recoup based on market demands which stymie investment absent substantial public subsidies.

Neither scenario is ideal, but both are seen in Cincinnati’s urban core today. Within the Central Business District the demands are there for increased development, but the prices are higher than the market will bear. As a result affordable living spaces are often not built, and new office development is rare.

In Over-the-Rhine, demand historically was too low to warrant the high parking costs, one factor in under-investment in the neighborhood, did not exist. The demands now exist in several portions of Over-the-Rhine, but in order for the price points of units to be kept artificially low, and keep inventory moving, parking has come in the form of surface lots.

The purple building seen here will be demolished to make way for an above-ground parking garage to supply parking requirements for nearby developments.

These surface lots throughout Over-the-Rhine have lower initial capital costs, but cause negative externalities for the neighborhood – one of America’s largest and most significant historic districts – and put additional historic structures at risk of demolition for these parking requirements.

Cincinnati Beer Company owner, Bryon Martin, currently owns the former Christian Moerlein residence and office on Elm Street in the Brewery District. His plans are for a brewpub restaurant that would play on the history of the two buildings. Martin would also love to have a large outdoor biergarten area on the vacant adjacent lot, but says that parking may have to be the use for that space at least initially.

There are potential solutions out there to balance out this equation without extreme demands that drive price points of investment in the neighborhood to unaffordable levels, or massive public subsidies. Over the next several weeks UrbanCincy will be looking into these potential policy solutions and how they might impact investment in our urban neighborhoods, preservation of the city’s historic building stock, and help change the way in which we design our communities.