Winter Park downtown parking strategies & new deck locations to be considered

Transportation planners with Kimley-Horn and Associates are a month away from sharing their recommended strategies with Winter Park to improve parking in the city's downtown district, and gauged residents Thursday night on which they preferred.

Concerns over limited parking in downtown -- be they legitimate or falsely perceived -- are impacting commercial real estate value and development potential. Battaglia Group's proposed three-story Class A office and retail building was denied by commissioners in early July over parking questions, despite staff support and an in-depth parking study that demonstrated ample space in a neighboring garage.

Kimley-Horn planners Stephen Stansbery out of Charlotte and Brett Wood from Phoenix have been working with city staff and Park Avenue stakeholders since early June to evaluate future parking solutions for on and around Park Avenue. 

The downtown district, an area of 0.25 square miles with roughly 1,900 surface and structured parking spots available now, is bounded by Fairbanks Avenue to the south, Webster Avenue to the north, Interlachen Avenue to the east and New York Avenue to the west. 

Stansbery and Wood held meetings with the public in early June, went home to mine the data, and returned this past week for a second round of public meetings, one of which was held Thursday night. 

Twelve potential strategies were offered, a progress report will be shared with city commissioners on Monday, and a final report with clear recommendations will be delivered in September. 

Key takeaways from Kimley-Horn's stakeholder meetings in June included that downtown-area employees appear to be the biggest violator of parking rules along Park Avenue. Some allegedly group-text to alert one another about parking enforcement patrols, and business owners aren't equipped to change the behavior.

The corridor has transitioned from primarily retail to largely restaurants over the past 30 years, with more than 1,400 new restaurant seats opened downtown since 2003. 

The current parking code for the city is antiquated and suburban, applying a one-size-fits-all standard that doesn't recognize the mixed-use urban development that has progressed in downtown. City code is considered a barrier to developing intensive mixed-use projects that enhance the walkable urban environment.

"The code should be modernized to reflect how the city shares parking in different areas, like downtown," Kimley-Horn's Wood told GrowthSpotter. "We're seeing cities all over the country that are taking a different approach to parking in urban areas compared to suburban."

A combination of wayfinding and technology will be important to help patrons and employees find available parking in real time. Options for new parking decks must be explored, and there's a general inaccurate perception of garages being unsafe. 

Among the "semi-finalist" strategies to be considered over the next month, the easiest to implement with the highest immediate impact could be an improved employee parking program. It would designate one or two surface lots as employee-only parking with no time limits and no patron parking there, as is currently allowed.

This would be coupled with improved parking enforcement of on-street spots via hiring another officer, to prompt Park Avenue employees now taking those spots to change behavior.

Another low-hanging fruit strategy that answers the key issues of insufficient turnover and utilization of existing spots is a paid parking system. It could involve smart meters along the street and in surface lots that make payment quick and easy, and be a flat rate or one that fluctuates in peak season.

Paid parking in garages could be validated by business owners to reward patrons, or a centralized valet service along Park Avenue could have one operator that utilizes existing garage space, with the cost shared by patrons, businesses and the city.

Separately, Winter Park's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) will have a work session on Monday that includes parking strategy discussions, and concepts for new parking decks in downtown.

This is another strategy option Kimley-Horn will consider. It carries high upfront cost, and must incentivize new development to pay off long-term.

General contractor Brasfield & Gorrie produced a series of cost estimates for the CRA in May on multiple way parking decks could be built over existing surface lots in downtown.

The first option is the largest and most ambitious. It proposes turning the current surface lot at the southeast corner of W. Morse Boulevard and S. New York Avenue into a three-level parking deck, with the first level partially underground and two levels on top that total approximately 516 cars. 

This would connect through a tunnel dug underneath Morse Boulevard to another parking deck built on the northern lot. That would be completely underground, add 167 parking spaces, and maintain the grassy lot's surface for public use. 

This option would involve temporarily closing W. Morse Boulevard to install the tunnel, include elevators for each elevator stop, and considers $50,000 per acre for landscaping and $150,000 for upgrades to the northern lot after it's restored over an underground parking deck. Average cost per space is estimated at $30,000 to $35,000 ($24 million overall), and no stormwater retention or exfiltration system has been factored in. 

A second option presented by Brasfield & Gorrie involves a public surface lot along Knowles Avenue, between E. New England and E. Welbourne avenues. The concept is one cast-in-place parking deck with three levels, serving up to 220 cars. 

This would require closing E. New England or E. Welbourne for about four months for crane access, the contractor estimated. Adjacent foundations could be reinforced, and funding for an attractive skin to the building is encouraged. 

Elevators would be included, and no exfiltration or stormwater retention system has been considered. Estimated cost is $28,000 to $33,000 per space ($7.3 million overall). 

And a third option is to build a three-level, cast-in-place parking deck with ground-floor retail space on the public lots to the west/rear of City Hall, for an estimated 385 spaces. 

This concept could include 22,800 square feet of leasable retail space, and would require 1.4 acres of site work, demolition and utility tie-ins, per the estimate. This concept is the only one of the three to include a fully mechanically ventilated parking deck, due to the retail space. 

Elevators would be included, and no exfiltration or stormwater retention system has been considered. Estimated cost is $34,000 to $40,000 per space, including the cost for shell retail space on the ground floor ($13.5 million overall).

Le-Huu Partners Architects provided the CRA similar rough proposals of parking deck redevelopment sites, without construction cost estimates. Those included one along Knowles Avenue, between E. New England and E. Welbourne avenues for a two-level deck with 114 spaces.

A second proposal was for a two-level structure on the current city lot on W. Morse Boulevard directly west of the SunRail station, with no underground level like Brasfield & Gorrie's proposal. This site could support 250 spaces, and Le-Huu proposed a broad staircase on the eastern side that steps down to the train station.

And a third option is a two-level structure to the rear of City Hall, offering up to 166 spaces and 12,000 square feet of retail space.

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