Parking in a money pit

Do you believe Asheville needs more downtown parking?

Chances are, you answered "Yes." That’s the widespread perception.

But suppose we asked why you believe Asheville needs more downtown parking?

You probably want more parking near some place you want to visit: a favorite store, restaurant or theater; a downtown bank or government office. Maybe you want greater convenience when attending a big event at Roger McGuire Green, The Orange Peel or the Pritchard Park drum circle. Or perhaps you work downtown and need a regular parking space.

Viewed that way, what most of us actually want is accessibility. The real goal isn’t parking cars but getting where we want to go.

Unfortunately, the city has hired experts to conduct "parking studies" rather than "accessibility studies" and, predictably, we learned that we need more parking. Ask a hammer, you discover you need a nail.

A 1998 study, for example, said we needed 542 new parking spaces around the Grove Arcade; 225 for an expanded Civic Center with a hotel and an 18,000-square-foot ballroom; 50 for BellSouth employees; 49 due to the renovation of the J.C. Penney building on Battery Park; 26 to replace those lost when the Basilica of St. Lawrence expanded its classroom building on Haywood Street; and the rest to support assorted other commercial development. The study also assumed a 92 percent occupancy rate for the Grove Arcade.

In fact, however, the Civic Center expansion never happened and won’t anytime soon; BellSouth not only doesn't need more spaces, it’s considering offering its current lot to the city; the J.C. Penney building was razed and became the 21 Battery Park high-rise, which has its own subterranean parking deck; the Basilica tore down its classrooms instead of adding on; and the Grove Arcade has yet to achieve 92 percent occupancy.

After the city spent well over $1.2 million on planning and $2.7 million on property, plans for a Battery Park deck collapsed beneath the weight of public opinion after community activists pointed out that almost half the new spaces were intended to benefit private developers and that the proposed building would block views of the Basilica, one of Asheville's architectural treasures.

A more recent projection found insufficient parking in the Lexington/Broadway/College/Patton/Biltmore Avenue area, adding that parkers typically don’t want to walk more than half a block to their destination.

Based on that study, Asheville City Council cut a 2008 deal with the McKibbon Hotel Group that would require the city to buy the "pit parking lot" across from the Double Decker Coffee bus and the adjacent Hot Dog King property. The city would build a 500-slot parking deck, and the hotel would front on Biltmore Avenue and Aston Street with street-level retail spaces.

This would cost the city about $14 million and would require diverting all revenues from our other parking decks, all our parking meters and all our parking fines for the first 10 years, and at a declining percentage for 15 years thereafter.

In 2005, Buncombe County appraised the "pit parking lot" at $246,000, yet the city has agreed to pay Public Interest Projects $3.11 million for part of it. The Hot Dog King property was appraised at $284,000; the city has agreed to pay $1.45 million. In addition, McKibbon would pay PIP $1.78 million for "air rights" to build a hotel atop a property the nonprofit no longer owned.

To preserve these sterling deals, Asheville has been paying PIP $10,000 per year and Cascade Mountain Properties $10,000 per month to extend the purchase options. To date, this has cost us $180,000, and because they were secured at the peak of the real estate boom, we’re locked into buying these properties at far higher prices than current conditions warrant.

Note that Public Interest Projects would walk away with $4.89 million, plus the entire Lexington Avenue frontage of both parcels and the Hot Dog King frontage on Biltmore. At the prices we’re paying, those lots are worth another cool million. Is your home worth 24 times its 2005 valuation? Neither is mine.

For good measure, the city has spent $472,000 on appraisals, project management and a design for a proposed deck that’s useless unless McKibbon can secure funding, which hasn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, we’ve paid dearly for speculation on an imaginary project.

According to staff estimates, parking slots in the new deck would cost the city about $22,000 apiece ($28,000 if you factor in the property purchase). Compare this to the $17,000 slots in the recently completed county parking deck on College Street, or the $8,000 slots in the proposed Montford Commons deck on Hill Street. And since the McKibbon hotel would use 50 to 100 of the new deck’s spaces, the actual cost per new public space would be considerably higher. McKibbon would lease the spots it required at a discounted rate.

This brings us back to the initial question: Do we want more cars parked downtown or enhanced accessibility to downtown venues?

For the same cost as the proposed 51 Biltmore parking deck, we could create and maintain a free electric shuttle that would conveniently serve all downtown venues plus the increasingly popular River Arts District — not just those within a half block of the proposed money pit. Other tourist cities have done just that.

Or we could use some of the money to build more sidewalks in neighborhoods. (We currently build about 1.2 miles of sidewalk each year and need, conservatively, 200 miles to make our city safely "walkable.")

We could even choose to keep ourselves open to innovative ideas emerging in cities around the globe instead of chaining ourselves to an overpriced parking facility rooted in 20th-century auto eroticism.

So do you want more downtown parking, or do you want easy access to the places you want to go?

The cards are on the table: It's your deal.

— Cecil Bothwell serves on the Asheville City Council.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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46 thoughts on “Parking in a money pit

  1. Cicada Brokaw

    Instead of more parking downtown, we need less cars. I think accessibility is the key. The bus system is still so far from being a key to providing the kind of access to downtown that would allow residents to use it as a primary source of transit to downtown.

    The bus system should be changed to smaller more frequent more fuel efficient vehicles. Routes need to be every 10 or 15 minutes in order for its usage to increase a considerable amount. This would give people the kind of accessibility that we need. This would reduce the need for parking downtown.

    Imagine, instead of increasing parking lots, we decrease the need for parking and we can convert some of those downtown surface lots into green space! This would be a significant improvement to our downtown.

  2. It continues to amaze me when I see the same car half a dozen times while they circle the block trying to find a parking space within that “half a block” radius. That said though, the last thing we need is more parking spaces.

    A shuttle from satellite parking lots would not only keep the congestion and the resulting emissions down, it would also allow the riders the freedom to look around and see stores they might have missed as they searched for a space. Stores they might visit now they know they are there. That’s a big plus from my point of view.

    To quote you; “We could even choose to keep ourselves open to innovative ideas emerging in cities around the globe instead of chaining ourselves to an overpriced parking facility rooted in 20th-century auto eroticism.” The “powers that be” in Asheville seem bound and determined to stick to the same old, same old except when it involves permits for eyesores.

    As for the money the city has spent, and will continue to spend on this? Thrift is not a word I associate with Asheville City Council when it involves problems like this. Throwing money away on “consultants” so they don’t have to make a decision has been their philosophy. Coming up with a solution themselves (oh my lord I have to think?) doesn’t appear to be in their job description. Present company excluded, of course.

  3. Barry Olen

    I have been in business downtown for 30 years. I moved to Fairview 6 years ago so I no longer can vote on this issue. As a past member of the downtown commission and downtown association I have supported the need for parking downtown. I agree with you that we have met our parking needs as I never hear from my customersn any more that they weren’t able to find parking and I have monthly parking for my employees and myself.
    I am shocked by the amount of $ that continues to be expended on this issue and as I have been in favor in the past for a deck at the pit since no buildings would come down for that project I can see your point .

  4. Barry Olen

    I have been in business downtown for 30 years. I moved to Fairview 6 years ago so I no longer can vote on this issue. As a past member of the downtown commission and downtown association I have supported the need for parking downtown. I agree with you that we have met our parking needs as I never hear from my customersn any more that they weren’t able to find parking and I have monthly parking for my employees and myself.
    I am shocked by the amount of $ that continues to be expended on this issue and as I have been in favor in the past for a deck at the pit since no buildings would come down for that project I can see your point .

  5. Renee Owen

    Telluride, Colorado has INTENTIONALLY limited their downtown parking. Instead, people have to park in lots on the edge of town and use a free shuttle. As a result, Telluride, has less traffice congestion downtown and it has been able to maintain it’s natural beauty. It has made Telluride more desirable as a place to visit. Pehaps we could build lots MUCH cheaper in the River Arts District and shuttle folks from there. This would also be an incredible boon to the River Arts District, thereby, creating positive development.

  6. Franklin

    I have lived near downtown for 6 years now, and have never had a problem finding parking with the exception of the night Larry the Cable Guy was at the Civic Center. (I was downtown for another event.) 90% of the time I can even find parking near (within 2 blocks or so) where I am going. The 10% of the time I can’t, I park in the pockets of town that never fill up, or in a parking deck and walk. Sometimes I choose to park far from where I am going just so I can enjoy a stroll before and after my destination. The journey is part of the fun.

    For those whose age or physical disability leave them unable to walk farther than 1/2 a block, a shuttle is a fine idea. I’d also be happy to have one when I am far from my car and it starts raining. For the rest of us, we need to learn to walk a little farther, enjoy the beautiful city we have, and be grateful for our health.

  7. “So do you want more downtown parking, or do you want easy access to the places you want to go?”

    More downtown parking. For my car.
    …………………………

  8. It seems that the article’s main question is rhetorical as the rest of the article is working to persuade the reader. Do you want readers to tell you what they want – even though it may be an individual “perception?” My perception is my reality. And, are you looking for the voice of Asheville voters or everyone who engages, shops, visits, employs, etc. in Asheville?

  9. JWTJr

    Aside from the discussion of cars vs mass transit, the most immediate travesty here is the over the top price being paid by the city. It smells of some home cooking.

  10. Peter Brezny

    Thanks Cecil for this informative article.

    Shame on you Public Interest Projects. One can expect this kind of thing from a developer, but somehow I don’t get the feeling this is the kind of thing Julian Price would approve of.

    http://tinyurl.com/27w8dtr

    Cecil, I hope you take fast action for the city to stop paying monthly to hold onto 2005 property pricing for the option to build a lot that’s not in the ultimate best interest of the city.

    I’m all in favor of reducing parking in the city and increasing accessibility. Differential rate parking would be great as well. The larger the car, the farther you walk, and the more you pay to park. And thanks for sharing the Telluride model Renee!

    The electric shuttle is a great idea. Imagine, if we could only bring back the electric trolly’s!

    I think Charleston still has theirs. We could ride from North Asheville all the way down to Biltmore. I’m sure the infrastructure costs would be higher for bringing back the rail system, but long term operation costs would likely make up for it over time.

    Thanks again for bringing this information to the public eye.

  11. missanne thrope

    in the words of RISING APPALACHIA ‘get out yo F#c%!n& car! walk!’….when ever i can’t find parking RIGHT BY my destination i am thankful for the busy, crowded, downtown that we have created…

  12. dhalgren

    “More downtown parking. For my car.”

    Greedy timmy, never thinking of the greater good.

    “It smells of some home cooking.”

    Smells like some teabaggery brewin’

    But, anyway, I’m in favour of an effective mass transit system. How bout you jr.?

  13. Grant Millin

    Well said, Cecil.

    I noticed a proposed 20% overall contingency for the City Hall roof repair. A blanket contingency like that gets used if it’s offered. Better to put incentives into the contract to use modern project management practices.

    We aren’t managing our city, at least at the optimum level using modern best practices. It would be great to make a policy as to what ‘optimum’ and ‘best practices’ actually are. Unfortunately there are problem dozens of polices in city hall already on such definitions.

    Being expeditious and avoiding political gridlock is different than using modern management practices.

  14. Politics Watcher

    Cecil, I hope you take fast action for the city to stop paying monthly to hold onto 2005 property pricing for the option to build a lot that’s not in the ultimate best interest of the city.

    Can Mr. Bothwell tell us what he is doing to bring this matter before City Council?

  15. Philip J. Bisesi

    Could the Wall Street parking lot be made taller?
    Could the federal building provide it.s own parking to the West? Could down town street parking be removed and people walk from garages, use small electric buses, trams or bicycles? Or could on street parking be limited to bicycles, deliveries, handicapped, cabs, etc.

  16. artart

    If the city had made such ridiculous agreements to overpay for the potential parking spaces, then maybe it is about time that eminent domain be properly used and just take the space for a public use. Downtown Ashevile will wither wihout adequate parking. As it is now, I often go to other areas for dining or shopping if I don’t want to hassle with the parking and sometimes drive around town for 10 minutes and just leave to spend my discretionary income elsewhere. There are many like me.

  17. JWTJr

    “If the city had made such ridiculous agreements to overpay for the potential parking spaces, then maybe it is about time that eminent domain be properly used and just take the space for a public use.”

    Say NO to eminent domain. Especially for something like this. ED is for highways.

  18. Betty Cloer Wallace

    I’ve never been to Telluride, but that model (as described previously by Renee Owen) appears to be a good one for AVL.

  19. JWTJr

    “If the city had made such ridiculous agreements to overpay for the potential parking spaces, then maybe it is about time that eminent domain be properly used and just take the space for a public use.”

    Say NO to eminent domain. Especially for something like this.

  20. Betty Cloer Wallace

    If I were a downtown business owner, I’d rather have a shuttle-load of people coming and going every fifteen minutes than have a few cars parked at my door for an hour or two.

    And as a customer, I’d like to park easily at a place on the perimeter and then be able to free-range by shuttle all over town.

  21. I mentioned a shuttle to Gordon Smith a couple of months ago…he was very supportive.

    We don’t need any more consultant “studies.” Is someone getting kickbacks for all those consultant reports that seem to go to file 13?

  22. GabrielV

    Thank you Cecil for being a true leader for Asheville. You are interested in giving the residents of Asheville what they truly need rather than what they want. Keep it up!

    Now if we can just some other city politicians that can see past their own self interests to do what is good for the city.

    Politics Watcher,
    If you had been at the Asheville City Council meeting on Aug 31st, you would have heard Cecil bring before all present the need to stop the new parking deck project. I’d encourage you and everyone else in Asheville to let city leaders know what we expect of them and then to hold them accoutable for the same.

  23. Chris Pelly

    City council met in east Asheville Tuesday evening in a meeting devoted entirely to the need for more sidewalks. Every one of the 296 seats were filled and the fire marshall turned away another 150 residents. The need and demand for sidewalks is real. http://www.sidewalksforsafety.com

    As documented by Councilman Bothwell, the need for another downtown parking deck is questionable and the costs astronomical. Council members besides Bothwell need to start asking the right questions about this deal.
    Chris Pelly

  24. Piffy!

    If I cant park RIGHT in front of the store i drove to, then you are all Commies.

  25. Also, PW, writing this commentary is part of bringing pressure on the other Council members – all of whom voted to extend the options at our last meeting in June. (I was the lone opponent.)

    They need to hear from citizens about this issue, wherever you happen to stand.

  26. ashkat

    @Renee Owen
    Pehaps we could build lots MUCH cheaper in Renee Owen’s neighborhood and shuttle folks from there. This would also be an incredible boon to Renee Owen’s neighborhood, thereby, creating positive development.

  27. Politics Watcher

    And thanks to Councilman Bothwell for further clarifying his intention. It seemed strange that he would be writing about an issue that he could have dealt with on City Council, but that was not mentioned in the article.

  28. ashkat

    Thanks for the thoughtful article Cecil. Many people already live inside the city of Asheville for its walkability. I hope we continue to enhance Asheville’s walkability and do not let car addicts ruin our beautiful neighborhoods with their cars and parking lots.

    ps The River Arts District is a walkable working and living area for artists and other urban people. Commercial development is not wanted. People who want development should do that in their own neighborhoods.

  29. newmechanic

    Asheville would do well to close off some streets and encourage walking/shuttles as a way to reduce congestion and avoid the continued cost of building parking spaces. Instead of building more parking spaces, how about limiting them and encourage the public to use shuttles.

    Closing some streets to cars also makes economic sense. When people are walking in front of store fronts they are more likely to see the store, look at the display window and go inside and make a purchase.

    I’ve lived here a long time and I agree with Cecil, that spending more on parking doesn’t make sense. Shuttles downtown, along with closing some streets to cars is the way to go!

  30. little sister

    ashkat: “Pehaps we could build lots MUCH cheaper in Renee Owen’s neighborhood and shuttle folks from there. This would also be an incredible boon to Renee Owen’s neighborhood, thereby, creating positive development.”

    Actually, Owen’s concept of situating transfer sites on the outskirts of the City in areas with natural boundaries (eg. river district) seems to have merit. The area is still under-developed and due to the terrain, access, proximity to downtown, and former uses, presents a prime location for consideration.

    It does appear that anyone who objects to high density development in older residential neighbors for safety reasons (inadequate egresses, traffic congestion) is considered a NIMBY, but as a resident of the River Arts District, you insist it must be protected from ‘unwanted’ uses. Isn’t everyone expected to make sacrifices for the sake of ‘sustainability’?

    Bothwell is on the right track but needs to consider the bigger picture before staking out his positions on a car-free future. High density infill development for the purpose of accessing public transportation does the environment and the public no favors while the buses have to navigate through the existing and worsening gridlock. Any master plan should include locating/routing commuter traffic around – not on – the transit corridors. If that were the case, buses and shuttles would become reliable and viable alternatives.

  31. little sister

    Bothwell’s theory of ‘auto eroticism’ seems to be a classic case of projection…or is it ‘auto envy’? Or maybe his risque entendres just can’t compete with those of Chuck Berry, Prince or Bruce Springsteen.

  32. ashkat

    @little sister
    You need direct access from the highway for parking lots or you defeat the purpose. The River Arts District has no highway access. The only access is through poor neighborhoods with congested streets.

    ps I don’t live there

  33. Clyde Hunnicutt

    Oh there he goes again. Cecil wants us to walk and not drive. Hence raising our taxes to build sidewalks in outlying semi-rural parts of town. Cecil is a self-avowed non-believer in a Higher Power, dare I say God. But he needs to have something bigger than Cecil to look up to. No mainstream religion? Well why not make your political dogma your religion? YES! Cecil’s religion is “Green”. God has been replaced by the “Jolly Green Giant: The Extreme Environmentalsit”. And all sorts of things will be rationalized in order to try to make them fit into the Green Religion.

    Got an idea. Cecil, you live in town. YOU can easily walk to “work” at city council. The rest of us live outside town and need to drive in. We will continue to drive into town and park. You can walk. Everybody does their own thing. OK?

  34. little sister

    ashkat: “You need direct access from the highway for parking lots or you defeat the purpose. The River Arts District has no highway access. The only access is through poor neighborhoods with congested streets.

    ps I don’t live there”

    When I drive to the area, I just hop off I-26 at Broadway and it’s a short drive down the river road, which is non-residential and without much traffic. Also, the passenger rail stop is planned for the river district, making it potentially accessible by another unique means. Most importantly, I consider the connection between commerce for the emerging area and a park n ride a most attractive consideration.

    Since you insisted that Owen locate the shuttle in HER neighborhood [implying, not yours], you gave the impression that you had a vested interest in the RAD that would be diminished by her suggestion. My point being that a broader vision, without self-interest alone, is what’s necessary for this conversation to be fruitful.

  35. ashkat

    @little sister
    The passenger rail stop is excellent for park and shuttle. Your route of I26>Broadway>river drive also is a great location for a park and ride.

    I thought you were suggesting the heavy traffic that exits the highway onto Patton Ave (where there’s a large RAD sign) should wend their way back to the river through residential streets to to a parking lot in RAD.

    I think our difference is the definition of River Arts District. My definition is a small congested area between Roberts St, Clingman Ave extended, the river drive, Lyman St, Depot St and the Cotton Mill. All of this area is either developed or plans have already been drawn.

  36. Clyde, like some other folks around town, seems unable to focus on what I say, preferring to make assumptions about what I believe or what my intentions might be.

    You won’t find anything written by me, or accurately reported about my statements, that suggests I want to ban automobiles or force anyone to walk or ride a bike or take a bus or train.

    What I have argued against for thirty years is subsidy of one form of transportation at the expense of others, and use of income and property taxes to subsidize the oil industry and oil wars.

    My interest in advocating for accessibility instead of simply parking cars in one square block downtown is to benefit all our downtown businesses and all our downtown visitors, both commuters and tourists. Whether or not we spend as much time in automobiles thirty years from now, we need to be mindful of what kind of city we want to live in then. (I happen to believe that we will make less use of cars, but that’s not the critical factor in deciding about downtown development. People will get downtown somehow.)

    And whether or not we build a parking deck on this particular location, I am convinced that paying 24 times the 2005 valuation of that property is not in the taxpayer’s interest. At minimum, this deal needs to be scrapped and renegotiated.

  37. We need leadership in our local communities and appreciate anyone who is willing to put themselves out there. Leadership, however, includes truly listening when asking a question. My point earlier in this posting was that your article/questions do not appear to seek insight into what the readers want but rather serve as a bully pulpit. Do you want input? If so, please provide a structure for obtaining input that involves active listening. If you don’t want input, just do what you want and let the chips fall where they may.

  38. Thanks Cecil for being a watchdog on this. I agree that focusing on accessibility rather than parking count is key. I also appreciate that you are paying attention to the money.

    On a side note, there seems to be a push to add sidewalks to our system, which in theory I agree with, the problem to me is that we do not seem to take care of the sidewalks we have in place. I live in Chestnut Hills and the walks are crumbling with little or no maintenance from the city. Why are people allowed to park on sidewalks? They were designed for people not vehicular traffic.

  39. Philip, a commentary is necessarily a bully pulpit. This one has stirred some comment here, and a great deal of e-mail, plus person-to-person conversations, to all of which I am listening.

    JMAC, I’ve just learned of a program in California (thanks to feedback about this commentary) which I’m going to propose to Council. We already have an ordinance which requires people to maintain the sidewalk on their property, but it isn’t enforced, and is deemed by some to be a hardship. Some California cities have implemented a “time of sale” rule, which requires sidewalks to be brought up to snuff when properties change hands. Because properties change hands, on average, every ten years, all of the sidewalks in such cities are gradually coming back into repair, in all neighborhoods (with no political preferences), and it has been found to raise property values of both the neighboring homes and the houses for sale. In fact, some people now fix the sidewalk before selling, to increase the appeal when it goes on the market.

  40. Cecil:

    I currently maintain the sidewalk in front of my house as well as a couple of other peoples frontage (elderly homeowners). When I say maintain I mean removing weeds. The walks are not on my property they belong to the city, so that seems to fall under infrastructure which normally falls under city responsibility (I think that is why I pay city taxes). The asphalt on the road is completely degraded should I be in charge of repaving the section in front of my house, I do not think so.
    Weeding may seem insignificant but over a decade the weeds slowly break down the pavement and you add to that the added burden of vehicle weight to it and you have a broken sidewalk. I think first thing is to enforce sidewalk maintenance and ticket people for parking on top of something that was designed to handle pedestrian traffic.
    The program you speak of sounds interesting, but I think sidewalks should be replaced street by street not lot by lot. When sidewalks are replaced it is an excellent time to repair water lines, sewer, and power; you just can not do those improvements effectively with the piecemeal method.

  41. paul_randall

    “More downtown parking. For my car.”

    Me, me, me!

    …Pathetic.

  42. Darlene

    The city should conduct surveys of the people downtown to find out which ones are paying city taxes. Chances are the ones getting off buses at the transit center, parking bikes or arriving on foot are much more likely to be city residents than those using the parking garages. Building more and more parking just makes it easier for people to move out to the suburbs, create ugly sprawl, and take advantage of city amenities without paying for them. The more parking we build to accommodate the suburbanites, the worse the city’s budget is going to get because it only increases the percentage of city-funded services that are being consumed by non-residents/non-taxpayers. Inefficient sprawl development doesn’t occur by itself or because people aesthetically prefer cul-de-sacs, it happens because of misguided government interference in the free market. New parking should be constructed with public funds ONLY when it is demonstrated that there is enough demand for it to command a price which will pay off the construction and land purchase cost in <5 years and then turn a profit for the city that can be invested in comprehensive transportation infrastructure.

  43. noahbuchanan

    Having recently moved to Orlando, FL after living in Asheville, I can say that parking in Asheville is not a problem. I was always able to find a space within a couple of blocks. I think a greener solution would be the obvious choice for Asheville with a combination of bike lanes, sidewalks, and a better transit system.

  44. Busrider

    Yes, improving the bus system would help immensely. I have been on the packed #2 bus during daytime and it more than warrants another bus during that time. Some other busses are even worse than that!

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