by BRAD ROLLINS
If you go…
» 2008 Downtown Master Plan [pdf]
» 1998 downtown parking study [pdf]
» 2011 parking study update [pdf]
Downtown San Marcos businesses have boomed in the last decade and a half but the number of parking spaces has increased only modestly.
A parking study commissioned by the city in 1998 identified 500 on-street and 1,178 off-street parking spaces — a total of 1,678 — in a 15-block area of downtown. Thirteen years later, the total had grown to 1,828, according to a 2011 class project undertaken by Texas State University geography undergrads. All but two of the new spaces were in private lots not necessarily available to the general public.
That could be partly because, according to the various evaluations completed over the years, the parking supply in the central business district is adequate to meet demand generated by people actually headed to downtown establishments.
“Available parking in the downtown area is not a significant problem; rather improved management and efficient use of parking is essential for the growth and development of commerce in downtown San Marcos,” the Texas State students wrote in their report.
The 2008 Downtown Master Plan adopted by the city council argued against building a parking garage in favor of parking meters and better monitoring to “discourage students from occupying prime parking spaces that should be utilized by patrons and visitors.” Since then, officials have been watching the city of Austin’s experiments with back-in, angled parking and the possibility of doing that downtown is brought up periodically.
Now the city has hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to help it figure out how to implement recommendations in the masterplan including, possibly, paid parking and either hiring a parking manager or contracting with a private company to oversee the program.
The firm’s L. Dennis Burns will make a presentation on “parking districts and economic development, with a focus on parking as a part of community economic development strategies,” according to a city announcement.
The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at the City Park Recreation Hall, 170 Charles Austin Drive.
This is what the Downtown Master Plan had to say about parking:
Another perceived problem in San Marcos relates to the parking within the downtown area. San Marcos has a high demand for on-street parking within the Downtown area ‚Äì especially surrounding the Courthouse Square. Downtown business owners complain that they lose business due to the lack of parking spaces immediately adjacent their shops.
However, based upon our field observations, the current supply of on-street parking and surface lots is adequately meeting the parking demand, although there is some abuse of parking spaces by students at Texas State who occupy parking spaces without visiting stores or restaurants. [Page 36, The Downtown Plan]
While many feel that there is not enough parking in the area immediately surrounding the Courthouse Square, parking studies indicate that the Downtown has adequate parking within a several-block radius of the Square. Although outdated, a 1998 study by transportation consultant John Edwards, P.E., suggested that a parking management strategy be adopted by the City in order to regulate parking Downtown. Additionally, a parking management system may provide the City an opportunity to collect usage tariffs that can be applied to future improvements Downtown. [Page 37, The Downtown Plan]
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Although there is local support to build a parking garage that would provide convenient parking to the downtown core, this may be a rash decision as the initial capital costs and ongoing operational and maintenance costs place a financial burden on the City or private developer. The parking garage would need to generate revenues to offset these costs.
The problem with paying to park in the garage is that there is an abundance of free parking on the street and in surrounding surface lots. It is likely that all the free spaces will be occupied first, and only the overflow will park in the garage.
Instead, the City should consider first starting out with introducing a paid parking program for on-street spaces around the town square and leading up to the university. parking meters or multi-space meters could be installed to capture revenue on premium parking spaces. This will help to discourage students from occupying prime parking spaces that should be utilized by patrons and visitors. If enforced, a paid parking program will also help to establish a parking fund to support future construction of parking facilities.
As the on-street parking continues to increase occupancy levels, the City should look for opportunities to purchase property in the areas surrounding the Downtown core and construct surface lots to meet the growing demand. The revenue collected at the surface parking lots combined with the revenue collected from on-street parking will cover the initial construction costs and operation and maintenance.
When these facilities reach critical levels of occupancy, it would then be appropriate to study the feasibility of building a parking structure. The cost of owning, operating, and maintaining a parking structure can be very expensive. A parking system that generates revenue from all of its spaces will be required to match the financial burden of a parking structure.
A parking manager should appointed to operate the system and to direct parking enforcement. This can be done in-house under a division of public works or parks and recreation. As an auxiliary service, this position will require full time attention to manage appropriate staff, issue and collect citations, operate facilities, oversee maintenance, etc. A secondary alternative may be to retain a privately-operated parking management company to operate the parking system. They would report to a manager within the City‚Äôs current structure and oversee all parking operations. The service is similar in nature to typical contracts for janitorial, landscaping, etc. [page 74, The Downtown Plan]