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By ANDREW FARRELL
I have reviewed the "Garrahy Courthouse Parking Garage Conceptual Analysis" report published in February. The report, which is really four separate reports on related topics, reveals that 1) there is no need for the parking garage 2) the garage will provide parking primarily for courthouse employees and visitors 3) Rhode Island taxpayers will be subsidizing the parking of the current courthouse employees and 4) the proposed LINK parcels development projections are wildly out of proportion with historic development and future population trends for the city.
Current parking status
In the report’s executive summary the premise for garage construction is given. On Page 1 it states that, “the transformation of the current surface parking lot at the Garrahy Courthouse into a structured parking garage represents a unique opportunity to address current parking capacity deficiencies and provide a mechanism to promote economic development through highest and best use development of the nearby LINK parcels.”
However, later in the report, on Page 3 of the Nelson Nygaard Parking Analysis memo, the results of a 2010 downtown Providence parking study are reviewed. That report stated that, “although there are pockets of high parking demand throughout the downtown and within sub-boundaries on an average weekday, overall there is still an ample supply of parking available.”
Within the three downtown zones measured, there were a total of 16,777 spaces, and an average weekday utilization rate of only 66 percent, equaling about 5,700 spaces unused during peak demand. On Page 1 of the Desman Associates memo within the conceptual analysis report the observation is made that the downtown parking lots are “virtually deserted after 5:00 PM on weekdays and all days on weekends and holidays.”
With no subsequent parking studies referenced in the overall report, there is no evidence to support the statement that there are parking capacity deficiencies to be addressed.
Garage usage and revenue projections
The report also describes in some detail the financial projections for the hypothetical courthouse garage development. The structure is assumed to be seven stories and would provide 1,250 spaces. Section 7.2 of the Executive Summary breaks down by category the projected users:
The report further describes each of the user categories:
Garrahy employees are the existing 517 courthouse employees who park off-site and would continue to pay a total of $32,000 per month in parking fees, or $384,000 annually.
Early-bird parkers are described as existing courthouse visitors. The report relates that courthouse administrators estimate the building attracts roughly 2,500 visitors a day.
Evening transients are identified as being primarily attendees of the Providence Performing Arts Center for 30 performances a year. This category would be supplemented in the future by demand for new retail development in the area.
Day transients are identified as additional courthouse visitors, Brown University Medical School visitors, and in the long term new office development users.
Overnight monthly users are identified as coming from existing and new residential development in the area.
Limited and general monthly users are identified as existing and new office workers in the area.
In using the report's own figures and assumptions, only 165 parking spaces, or 13 percent of the total facility, are projected to be available for use by current or future office and retail users. At the same time, the 517 courthouse users will be subsidized by the state of Rhode Island and the other parking garage users since they will be providing only 13 percent of the facility’s gross revenue, even though they will be using 40 percent of the total spaces.
With these gross revenue assumptions and projected operating expenses, the garage is forecast to generate a net loss through the first three years of $640,000. This deficit would be funded by the state of Rhode Island or the city of Providence.
LINK parcel development assumptions
The report references that the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission is working with two development scenarios:
Scenario 1 envisions more than a million square feet of office and research space to be built and occupied within the district. According to MG Commercial Real Estate, based in Providence, the downtown Providence commercial real-estate market consists of 6.3 million square feet, and according the CB Richard Ellis had a vacancy rate of 16.2 percent.
Increasing the total built commercial real-estate environment by 16 percent would take a considerable amount of expansions and relocations to Providence by companies to meet this projection, which would be unprecedented given that the total labor force in the Providence MSA as increased by only 48,553 from March 1994 to March 2014.
Scenario 2 envisions 1,050 apartments to be built within the district. According to the Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program’s “Rhode Island 2010-2040 Populations Projections” report, published in April 2013, the population of Providence is forecasted to increase from the 2010 census figure of 178,042 to 180,583, an increase of about 2,500 people. A recent market study conducted on the feasibility of a large multifamily project in Providence, published in January, 2013, recommended a lease-up rate assumption of 10 units per month.
The market data and population projections don’t support the development assumptions that are being used to derive future downtown parking needs. Overall, the stated reasons for building the Garrahy garage don’t match the reality on the ground as currently exists today, nor the projected reality based on the commercial real-estate market and demographic trends.
Andrew Farrell works for a national organization dedicated to community redevelopment and historic preservation through the use of public/private partnerships. He is based in Washington, D.C.