The parking lot at the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
The parking lot at the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Centro San Antonio and the City of San Antonio have hired a consultant to perform a downtown parking analysis that city officials hope will help attract more locals and businesses downtown.

One of the biggest aversions to coming downtown is the stress of finding and paying for parking, Centro President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni told City Council members during a B Session briefing on Wednesday.

“If we want to attract more employers downtown, the first question they ask is, ‘Where are my employees going to park?’” DiGiovanni said. “(While locals) want to be able to park once and go to four or five places when visiting downtown.”

It’s a classic problem for most cities, but the study will determine whether there is a real or only perceived shortage of parking. It could be that adequate parking is available, but too few drivers understand how to locate it.

“(Parking) may not be an actual barrier, but a mental barrier,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said.

There are more than 15,000 parking spaces in the Central Business District, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said, regardless if that’s enough, “perceptions are real.”

The apparent demand for more downtown parking is real enough for developers to have planned two new major parking garages. A 10-level, 500-space parking garage is planned for the corner of Commerce and Navarro streets. The project, a joint effort between Silver Ventures and Hixon Properties, received conceptual approval from the City’s Historic and Design Review Commission this month. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts Board Chair J. Bruce Bugg Jr. appeared before City Council and County Commissioners earlier this month, asking them to split the costs of a $16 million parking garage for its patrons.

The study was scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, but Centro, a nonprofit that manages the downtown public improvement district (PID) operations and membership, and the City are still working with national consultant firm Kimley-Horn, to define the scope of the study, DiGiovanni said. The study could cover a portion of the PID or a portion of the larger business district. Total cost estimate of the study is also yet to be determined.

Image courtesy of Centro San Antonio.
Image courtesy of Centro San Antonio.

The first part of the study will essentially be an analysis of parking supply (inventory) and demand. The second part, he said, “is looking at the best management practices for operating a public parking system and how we bring other elements into the equation – it’s really about asset management.”

Those elements include rideshare, carshare, valet services, and mass transit – particularly VIA’s free downtown circulator and its potential to connect with periphery parking options. The E (“entertainment”) route runs every 10 minutes from 6 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday. VIA is considering service expansion to Southtown and River North near the Pearl. The ability to park – or live – a mile or two away in the urban core and hop a small bus into the heart of downtown could be appealing to those that would rather avoid crowded downtown streets during major events or rush hours.

Ultimately, however, DiGiovanni hopes that San Antonians move away from a car-centric culture, but for the time being parking is a necessary evil.

“The default question for every event or development is, ‘Where am I going to park?’” DiGiovanni said after the meeting. He’d like to see that question become something more along the lines of: Where can I lock up my bike? Which bus drops me off closest?

“Technology is going to change everything,” he added, pointing to a recent report by Lux Research that by 2030, the self-driving car market is expected to reach $87 billion. “Whether or not car ownership will be a big deal in the future, I have no idea.

“The projection for cellphone use in the 80s (for) 1995 was 900,000 people. It turned out to be 105 million people.”

After a recent board retreat, Centro San Antonio narrowed its goals for downtown to focus on five areas: adding housing, attracting jobs, place making, complete streets, and community mobilization – in that order. “Housing first” is also the mantra of the City’s Center City Development and Operations Department. By focusing on bringing residents back into the center city, the theory is that retail, employers, and further public and private investment in infrastructure will follow.

The city is well on its way to reaching its SA2020 goal of adding 7,500 more housing units downtown by 2020. In the past five years alone, 5,000 units have been completed or are underway. In 2011, there were only 3,304 units. The goal is 8,304.

“We only have one ask of you,” DiGiovanni said during his presentation updating Council on Centro’s goals and projects. “We need more time with City Council. We want to come out to your districts. We want to talk about this amazing place (downtown) that has really been underutilized. We want to hear what you are hearing from your constituents about what’s missing from downtown so that we can be good architects and good designers.”

Downtown is not just for people that live and work in the urban core, he said, it’s the city’s “common ground.”

*Top image: The Central Library’s parking garage roof in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.  

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Commission Approves Downtown Parking Garage, Retail Space

Bexar County Considers Funding for $16 Million Tobin Center Parking Garage

New App to Optimize Parking in Downtown San Antonio

Parking in Downtown San Antonio: No Perfect Solutions

Commentary: The Case for a Downtown Civic District

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org