Kimley-Horn delivers parking strategies for Winter Park's downtown future

Transportation planners with Kimley-Horn and Associates have delivered nine specific strategies to improve parking in Winter Park's downtown district, now it's up to city officials on how and when to follow the advice. 

Kimley-Horn planners Stephen Stansbery 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. 

Their final strategy report was presented to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) on Sept. 25, and could go before the City Commission in late October or November.

Among their conclusions were that concerns over limited parking in downtown are a mix of legitimate and false perception. Space is available, particularly in garages, but the failure has been in utilizing it. 

Chief among the recommendations is modernizing the city's parking policy to support shared parking that serves many different users.

This missed opportunity is directly 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 that would be shared.

"We agree with the consultants' recommendation that the city revise the parking code to allow greater flexibility, and promote the use of shared parking within the downtown area," Daniel Butts, COO of Battaglia Group Management, told GrowthSpotter. "While we wait for the city to decide how they will proceed with codifying these recommendations and addressing their own public parking concerns, we will continue to evaluate other alternatives for the site (on E. New England Avenue). If there is interest in supporting a successful project at this location, we are prepared to reengage in discussions with city leadership."

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. 

The planners recommended nine strategies that can be introduced in staggered fashion in the coming years. Most involve new technology and enforcement that comes at a reasonable cost and can be introduced quickly, while the concept of new high-cost parking garages is treated as a long-term last resort: 

MODERNIZE ENFORCEMENT
At minimum, the city should increase the number of parking enforcement officers who cover downtown, the planners said. There's currently one officer responsible for thousands of spaces throughout the community.

This staff's focus could be placed on customer service and promoting "voluntary compliance" with the city's parking rules. The city should also change its fine structure from the flat fee-per-occurrence that it has today, to a scale that warns first-time offenders and heavily fines repeaters.

And to help parking staff be more efficient, it's recommended the city invest in advanced parking enforcement equipment, including mobile vehicle-mounted License Plate Recognition (LPR) and ticketing devices. 

The cost of this involves additional staff salary, $25,000 to $35,000 per vehicle for mobile-mounted LPR equipment, and an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 annually for ongoing software and database charges.

FLEXIBLE TIME LIMITS
Winter Park's downtown parking time limits are currently static, which don't take into account actual demand for time of day. 

Changing the time limits to reflect demand, which would be driven by parking data and analysis, allows the flexibility to respond to change and can promote the use of spaces in seldom-used parts of downtown, the planners wrote.

Changing the downtown parking time limits won't improve anything without consistent enforcement to ensure prime parking spaces turn over. These two recommendations are symbiotic.

The cost for this step would be minimal, involving a few hundred dollars for new signage installation, and staff labor costs for the education, data collection and analysis.

IMPROVE EMPLOYEE PARKING
Many employees in downtown are using on-street parking for convenience, and aren't deterred due to inconsistent enforcement. Visitors are also parking in off-street surface lots designated for employees, which perpetuates the cycle.

To solve this, the city can designate certain parking garage floors or off-street surface lots as employee-only spaces. This would require revision to the city's parking code, but would reduce space competition and ensure employees have reliable parking.

The previously mentioned LPR system can be used to establish a license plate-based permit system for downtown employees. The employee-only parking area can be made free, or given tiered pricing.

Cost for this would involve market rate leasing of private parking spaces, and employee permits should be subsidized significantly to incentivize participation.

WAYFINDING
New wayfinding signage can take the form of traditional street signs, to digital signs and mobile applications that integrate with navigation software. 

The city's current wayfinding signage is easy to overlook, planners wrote. Revamping the downtown wayfinding can improve the parking experience, and reduce traffic as vehicles continuously circle an area to "hunt" for a space.

Rather than create the city's own parking app, which can be expensive to maintain and difficult to educate users about, the planners recommend working with mainstream navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze. 

Google started showing parking locations near users' final destinations in 25 metro areas earlier this year, including Orlando. The city can partner with an entity like Google to provide updated information on all its parking facilities, including potential use of future real-time data.

The cost for this could be relatively minimal, involving a few hundred dollars for static street signs, up to $15,000 for illuminated signage outside garages. Data collection equipment and staff time to manage it may not be needed, depending on an outside partner like Google. 

CENTRALIZED VALET
Park Avenue currently has valet parking operations in front of a few restaurants, but they're all paid through private agreements and operate independently. 

To serve the district as a whole, a centralized valet system would provide several valet stations along the avenue from a single networked service. This allows visitors to drop their car at any location and pick it up later from any other.

Technology makes this more convenient than ever, as many valet services now have smartphone apps that allow customers to call for their vehicle without having to wait at a kiosk.

This private valet service could be paid for through an operating agreement with the city, by the Park Avenue Merchants Association which provides it free or at a discount to visitors, or by the visitors entirely. This type of service supports Park Avenue's identity as a high-end destination, the planners wrote.

Costs for this type of valet service could run between $250,000 and $350,000 annually, not counting additional costs for storing vehicles in distant lots or garage floors. 

PAID PARKING
Paid parking is an effective tool in influencing behavior, redistributing parking demand and promoting economic activity through turnover of spaces. Introducing paid parking for premium spots shouldn't have a negative impact on a strong business district like Park Avenue, planners wrote.

Modernizing the parking program with "smart meters" and mobile applications would allow users to pay with their phones, and add time without returning to their vehicle. 

The city would continue providing free parking locations nearby so employees and visitors who choose not to pay have a choice, while those willing to pay for a prime spot benefit from the increased availability. Excess revenue would be used for transportation improvements around Park Avenue.

Costs for this typically run $4,000 to $8,000 for each multi-space pay station kiosk, plus transaction costs and maintenance. 

SUPPLY ADDITIONS
Planners acknowledged that there's still a strong perceived lack of parking supply for the Park Avenue area today.

In identifying potential locations for new parking, the city must consider the intended users, and perform a supply-and-demand analysis for that area. 

Once that data can separate perception from reality, and a location is identified for a potential new garage, staff must consider how it can be made a mixed-use facility retail or residential units to add to the vibrancy of Downtown Winter Park.

Public investment in new parking garages must provided a return on investment for the city, through enhanced development or increased sales tax in the downtown, planners wrote.

One example of success can be found in Boise, Idaho, where officials set a goal of a 5-to-1 return on parking investments. Through the recent completion of the "BoDo" (Boise Downtown) project, they leveraged $15.5 million in public infrastructure investments of two garages and streetscape improvements, in return for $87 million in private development -- reflecting a 5.61 return on investment.

By setting that investment philosophy, the city gave the development community a guideline to consider before approaching with a partnership idea to provide new parking. 

Winter Park's CRA already received a series of cost estimates in May for multiple ways parking decks could be built over existing city-owned surface lots in downtown. 

The cost to the city for such a plan has many variables. A two- to three-level parking deck built by the city for public use, with ground-floor retail, could range from $10 million to $24 million. The sale of public land for private mixed-use development would be a net gain. 

REMOTE PARKING CONNECTIONS
A city-provided connection to the downtown area can take many forms, and be a vital utility in connection major activity centers with remote parking areas. This can allow Park Avenue visitors to leave their cars outside downtown, especially useful during special events.

A downtown circulator bus or trolley route could provide regular or seasonal service to remote parking areas and popular destinations, planners wrote, citing the trolley system of West Palm Beach as an example. Service must be reliable and convenient, and initial capital investment and operating costs can sometimes be cost-prohibitive, but sponsorships with local businesses can defray costs. 

Another option is for the city to subsidize the use rideshare services within a certain distance of downtown. The can be especially useful for location residents, and can be promoted with discount codes during special events. 

The costs for a rideshare subsidy can vary through negotiations with firms like Uber and Lyft. For a trolley system, new vehicles recently purchased in West Palm Beach cost $200,000 each, and monthly operating costs averaged $30,000.

MODERNIZE PARKING POLICY
Winter Park's current parking policy is out of touch with reality, and the community's current expectations for a vibrant downtown district, the planners wrote. 

It's current parking code doesn't reflect the community's focus on aesthetics and quality design. A new approach to shared parking and an incentive for businesses to participate will allow Winter Park to optimize its facilities and balance demand. 

Cost for this would just be staff time to implement, and consultant time to research and define data-driven requirements. 

ACTION PLAN
The nine recommended strategies provide Winter Park a road map to re-balance its downtown parking system, and re-align parking demand with community expectations, the planners wrote. 

But change won't come overnight. The city should reevaluate its outlook for downtown parking once a year to determine which steps to implement next. 

The city should hire a parking manager, the planners advised, to oversee parking policies, programs, operations and data collection. Over time this manager will help ensure the program is financially self-sustainable.

Within the next two years, Kimley-Horn's planners prioritized the following strategies: Invest in advanced parking enforcement data collection technology and back-end management platforms, implement a graduated fine structure, start a license plate-based employee parking program, introduce centralized valet along Park Avenue, and improve signage and wayfinding for parking navigation.

In the next four years they encourage the city to: implement flexible time limits for parking, introduce parking fees in lieu of other new garage development, and create a downtown circulator or subsidized ride system.

And beyond four years, the Kimley-Horn planners said construction of new shared parking options in mixed-use buildings could be considered to support economic development, with the goals of increased connecitivity and walkability as primary drivers. 

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