Scottsdale grappling with Old Town parking shortage

Surprise resident Larry Tucker drove to Old Town Scottsdale on a recent weekend to buy some American Indian pottery.

The 45-mile drive was only part of the battle. Upon arriving in Old Town, it took Tucker about 20 minutes to find a parking space on the street.

“I just drove around two or three blocks,” he said. “It wasn’t easy; it’s pretty congested. Some people won’t come down here because it’s so congested. I drove all the way here, so I was going to make sure I got a parking space.”

Tucker’s experience, tough as it was, occurred in September, long before the crush of winter visitors cause even more of that congestion and competition for a parking space.

Downtown as a whole has sufficient public parking, but availability varies depending on location, said Dan Symer, senior city planner. In all, there are approximately 9,000 public parking spaces in the downtown area.

“For people, it’s a matter of how far do you want to walk?” he said.

The primary reason downtown has a parking problem is because “there are so many excellent businesses, be they retail, restaurants, bars or nightclubs, or offices,” said Paul Basha, the city’s transportation director. “There are several excellent reasons for people to be here, and we need parking spaces to accommodate them.”

New, multilevel public parking still could be coming to downtown’s entertainment district despite last November’s failure of a bond package that would have provided funding, Basha said.

In the meantime, many visitors expect a parking challenge when they enter the area.

“I just was fearing that parking would be a problem, so I just took the first spot I could find,” said Tim Cochran, a visitor from California. “So we just pulled in and said, ‘This looks like where we want to be.’ I’ll park four blocks away because I don’t want to wait for parking. It’s good exercise anyway.”

Problem quadrant

Downtown’s biggest public parking deficiency exists in what the city has designated the northeast quadrant, which is bordered by Camelback Road to the north, Indian School Road to the south, 75th Street to the east and Scottsdale Road to the west. It includes the entertainment district, an area with a high concentration of bars and nightclubs.

“The entertainment district is part of the quadrant and part of the deficiency, but frankly a small part,” Basha said. “The greater issue is we have some office developments in that area, mostly in the former Galleria, that have a very large number of employees in the building, and they virtually all drive to work individually. So that causes a parking deficiency.”

Also, a number of small businesses on small properties generate a sizable number of customers, as well as their employees, so that adds to the deficiency, he said.

“The daytime parking deficiencies are more serious than the nighttime parking deficiencies,” Basha said. “At nighttime, there’s a lot of valet parking, a very large number of taxis, plus the little electric carts. So those all respond and, frankly, solve the nighttime parking deficiency.”

The city has two public-parking lots, totaling about 100 spaces, along Stetson Drive east of Scottsdale Road.

“We posted the smaller of those two lots as no parking from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m., and the sole reason for that is to prevent employees from arriving before 7 a.m. and filling that parking area so that no other businesses in the northeast corner of downtown can park there,” Basha said.

A system of parking credits enacted years ago for properties also is a factor in limiting spaces, Basha said. The system, called P3 parking credits, allows some building owners to avoid providing as many spaces as normally required.

“If you look at the area that has the main deficiency, the entertainment area, it was developed in the late 1950s and P3 parking credits were provided to those properties,” he said. “Let’s say out of a 3,000-square-foot building, the parking requirement is one per every 300 square feet, so 10 spaces. Let’s assume (the property owner) has five P3 parking credits assigned to it, so they only have to provide five spaces.”

A partial solution

The city is seeking bids to convert its two parking lots on Stetson to multilevel parking garages, Basha said. The bids are due in a few weeks.

“That area is very small,” he said. “We have received some interest … but we don’t know if we will receive many proposals. Maybe we’ll see one or two, but obviously we would be happier to receive six to 10.”

In addition to converting the two small lots into parking garages, the city is considering eliminating a portion of Stetson between the two lots and creating one larger garage, Basha said.

“We may consider that option with the selected provider,” he said. “There are funds available in our general account as well as our transportation account. There’s no cost range at this time.”

Recommendations could be presented to the City Council in January with possible construction slated next spring, Basha said.

“We are in the process of developing long-term strategies to provide long-term parking,” he said. “When there’s a parking problem, much is going right. Twenty-five years ago, there was not a parking problem in that northeast corner of downtown because there were very few businesses that attracted people.”

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