Downtown Spokane is clearly hitting its stride. The number of new office spaces and condo development either breaking ground or in the planning stages hasn't been seen in the central business district for decades. Along with this urban bounty, however, comes an unsettling trend: an ever growing supply of parking. We're not talking about the ubiquitous surface parking lots that are scattered everywhere (ever see an aerial-view of downtown [here]?), but the more heinous parking garages that are starting to pop-up all over the place.
We first took note of the trend a few years back with the opening of the Davenport Hotel. Its rebirth certainly ushered in a new era for downtown, and with it came the gift of a new seven-story parking structure complete with faux marble exterior. The reality is, it was likely necessary to make the project pencil (heck, all it replaced was surface parking). Without an ample amount of parking nearby, the high-end clientele were not likely to spend much time at ol' Louis D's place.
Meanwhile, in the west-end near the newer Q-6 building, a quaint three-story 'bungalow'-garage was added to the fleet. Over the past year, the old Metropolitan Mortgage tower has been updated(?) and is again open for business only now it's sporting a five-story parking garage (funny, it didn't need one for its first 23 years of operation). Further south, the Spokane Integrated Medical Plaza on 5th and Wall is a wonderful looking addition to the urban fabric, save the six-story parking structure that covers half of the entire block. Ponder all of these new additions for a moment. Now consider the fact that the downtown core has NO PARKING REQUIREMENT for new development. None. Zippo. There is a saying that two points make a trend - ladies and gentleman, we have a trend.
Just last year, the Downtown Spokane Partnership finished up with a parking study [here; parking map here] for the Central Business District. The results showed that in most parts of downtown, the off-street parking supply was woefully under utilized, not even reaching 70% of capacity at peak times. On street parking fared better, hitting around 85% of capacity in many areas. A rash generalization might be that Downtown Spokane really doesn't have a problem with the parking supply; still, we feel confident in saying so. Now the good news is that these new garages are charging higher prices to the public for their use (RiverPark Square is up to $2/hour). The bad news is that as new development is coming on full-steam, we continue to embrace a strategy that appears to be at odds with making downtown a place for people (e.g. pedestrians) and not cars. The other chilling effect this trend has is a continued weakening of transit. Increasing the supply of parking without simultaneously increasing the demand for transit continues to diffuse transit's role in Spokane. Could there be a correlation between the transit center being valued at only a touch over $3 million and an ever increasing supply of off-street parking? If there's a blessing to surface parking (did we say that?), it is that it can be easily converted to other uses when the economics of the land make it feasible...parking garages...not so easily.
Simply put, our downtown is in desperate need of an overall parking strategy to make it that vibrant and truly urban place we'd all like it to be.