Spokane Journal of Business

Piecing together downtown Spokane’s parking puzzle

Shortage of leasable spaces identified in city’s core

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-—Samantha Peone
Downtown Spokane Partnership’s Andrew Rolwes says the shortage of leasable parking space can present a challenge to attracting tenants to lease office space in the city’s core.

Of the various parking issues in the city, the lack of leasable spaces for downtown workers is the most concerning, says Downtown Spokane Partnership’s Andrew Rolwes. 

In August, the DSP surveyed 15 parking lots and garages in the downtown core, says Rolwes, the organization’s public policy and parking manager. Of those 15 lots, three had waitlists, four were tenant-only, and one was full. The remaining lots had only 176 parking spaces available for monthly leasing to the public, he says.

“That’s not a significant number and offers some challenges to leasing office space,” Rolwes says.

Chris Bell, a commercial real estate broker with Spokane-based NAI Black, says he has had two transactions fall through because of a lack of parking in the downtown core.

“A lot of the buildings downtown don’t have any parking, so we rely on surface parking lots or structure parking, but we’re running out of spaces,” he says.

In the end, the two clients, who Bell declines to name, ended up leasing space outside of the downtown core, he says.

Separately, he says, “landlords have to get creative when they make deals because of lack of parking.”

Jordan Allen, CEO of Spokane-based vacation rental company Stay Alfred, says parking is a big consideration when looking for office space to occupy.

“It’s really important for us to have that cool, kind of industrial, kind of hip space people want to work at. To find that type of space that also has parking is incredibly difficult,” says Allen.

Stay Alfred plans on moving its offices next year, he says. He declines to give an address but says he considers the area to be in the downtown core.

Located for now at 123 E. Sprague, a couple blocks east of Division Street, Stay Alfred has 140 employees. 

At its current location on downtown’s periphery, on-street parking is plentiful, he says.

“To find that number parking spots that exist downtown somewhere is just almost impossible,” Allen says. “It’s important to be downtown and to be the closest we can be, but we also have to make it work out for our company.”

Rolwes says significantly expanding the number of available spaces for lease is a lengthy process, and developing a parking garage can take many years.

According to Kalamazoo, Mich.-based civil engineering firm Carl Walker Inc., the national average cost to develop a single parking space in a garage is $19,700.

Two parking facilities are being built in the downtown area that he’s aware of. The first is the six-story parking garage at 121 S. Madison, which GVD Commercial Properties Inc., of Spokane, is developing, he says.

The second is planned by developer Lawrence Stone, says Rolwes.

That underground parking facility is part of a $60 million mixed-use development Stone is working on at the former YWCA building, at 829 W. Broadway, the Journal previously reported. 

Rolwes says the private off-street parking business has small margins. Developers are hesitant to construct a parking garage unless they feel confident they will receive a return on their investment or the garage is directly tied to another piece of property they’re developing.

In the future, Rolwes predicts off-street surface parking lots in Spokane will develop into office space, retail buildings, and multistory parking facilities. 

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart plans to propose a provision that would provide 10 years of property-tax abatement on new development on both surface parking lots downtown and empty lots in other neighborhoods. The proposal is based on a 10-year tax abatement for multifamily housing projects that currently exist in certain areas of Spokane. Under that provision, property owners who develop their land would continue to pay taxes at their current rate for a decade, instead of paying for taxes on increased valuations for the improvements.

The tax abatement isn’t certain to occur and would require state Legislature to pass a bill enabling the multifamily provision to be extended to other types of development, and it’s unclear what net effect the legislation would have on downtown’s parking inventory. In the Journal’s previous reports, however, Stuckart has said the incentive could be used to build parking garages where surface lots are situated. 

Heather Trautman, the city’s director of Neighborhood Services and Code Enforcement and Parking Services, says that some downtown parking areas see high rates of congestion during certain days and hours, while other locations remain relatively empty, says 

One reason for that is proximity, says Trautman.

“We use an analogy where people try to get, what we call ‘beachfront,’” she says. “People typically try to park as close as possible to their destination activity, whether it’s shopping, or to conduct business, or even if you’re an employee.”

That can cause congestion in areas surrounding places like River Park Square and the Spokane Convention Center, she says. Underused parking spaces tend to be south of the railroad downtown, but there are some spots that can fill up with parking around there, she says.

Another reason for possible parking congestion in the downtown core, says Rolwes, is the different parking rates. 

Parking meters in the city have stayed a flat rate of $1.20 per hour for several years. Private owners run off-street parking, and rates vary for different parking lots. As of August, the average rate of off-street parking in the downtown core was $2.12 per hour, he says.

Private parking rates have risen as demand has increased over the years, he says.

Regarding a common perception that there isn’t enough parking downtown, Trautman also says part of the puzzle is discerning different parking needs that people have.

“We have people coming to Spokane as shoppers. We have people who come as business owners, and as employees. Those parking needs can be distinctly different for those populations,” she says.

The city is preparing to update its parking plan, says Trautman.

“Our last plan was seven years ago,” she says. “We are going through the process of updating that parking strategy and developing our next six-year strategy plan.” 

In the plan, city parking consultants will update the amount of on-street and off-street parking. They also will conduct a study to measure parking use during different times, days, and events.

Consultants will also look at other factors like land-use zoning and planning issues.

Afterward, they will be “coming back with a proposed set of actions around parking,” she says.

“We are doing that proactively, looking at that parking system, where we are and where we need to be as part of the output of that analysis,” she says.

She hopes the city will wrap up that research by the end of 2018. The analysis is expected to start at the beginning of next year.

Also, as part of that updating plan, the city is researching creative ways to address parking concerns, she says.

Rolwes says a couple of services can help people get around parking problems downtown. Spokane Transit Authority operates a vanpool service that allows people to carpool from around Spokane county into downtown, and back home at the end of the day. 

The City Ticket parking program is another community option. People can park at the Spokane Arena, and a shuttle will bring them to the STA bus plaza downtown. On average, 450 parking spots are occupied in the arena for that service.

There’s capacity for more people to use that service, he says.

At $37 per month, Rolwes contends it’s the best deal for parking downtown.

Trautman says the city also is trying to raise awareness of its parking app, which enables parkers to pay via phone for any of the downtown’s 3,600 metered parking spots, she says. 

Rolwes says people also can pay in advance and be reminded when their meters are about the expire.

Trautman says the city is discussing whether to add parking spots on Stevens Street as well. In the past, that street had on-street parking spots, but they were removed several years ago.

Samantha Peone
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