By Jorge Casuso
August 24, 2009 -- In 2006, the City Council approved an ambitious Downtown Parking Program to add 1,712 new parking spaces Downtown, and the pieces are finally starting to fall into place.
Earlier this month, construction crews finished seismically retrofitting Structure 4 at 1321 2nd Street. Structure 5 at 1440 4th Street also has been retrofitted, while work on Structure 2 at 1235 2nd Street will begin in January after the busy holiday shopping season.
A week earlier, the council took a major step approving the process of tearing down and rebuilding the three smaller structures.
“One of the things we make sure we do is to minimize the number of parking spaces that aren’t available” during construction, said Tina Rodriguez, the City redevelopment administrator in charge of implementing the parking plan.
“On occasion, if the work requires a longer time to be completed, the work is done after hours,” Rodriguez said.
Once the three taller structures are retrofitted, the City will begin the more difficult and costly task of tearing down the three smaller structures and replacing them with larger structures containing as many as three levels underground and pedestrian oriented uses on the ground floor.
City officials have not yet decided which of the structures will go first, but on June 30, the City Council voted to hire Morley Construction Company for the conceptual design phase of a contract to demolish and replace Structure 1 at 1234 4th Street and Structure 6 at 1431 2nd Street.
Plans to replace Structure 3 at 1320 4th Street with a taller structure that can house 560 parking spaces are being reevaluated. City officials are considering the site for a proposed state-of-the-art movie theater the City Council is expected to consider this month.
The wrecking ball should swing on the first of the smaller structures in 2012, while the second structure would be torn down two years later, Rodriguez said.
The plan calls for each of the new parking structures to have 250 more spaces than the existing five-story structures built four decades ago and to be powered by solar panels on the roof. They will include bicycle storage facilities and public restrooms, in addition to ground-floor retail.
“The new parking structures will provide the opportunity for attractive retail space to activate the sidewalk at the ground floor level,” staff said in its report.
“Rebuilding the structures will also furnish the opportunity to enliven the alleys... and transition the alleys into desirable pedestrian environments,” according to the report.
As part of the design process for the two smaller structures, City officials will work with Morley to address building massing, determine the number of spaces that can be accommodated and plot pedestrian and vehicle circulation and ground-floor uses. A schematic design is scheduled to be presented to the council for approval in October.
As the plan moves forward, City officials are reevaluating the number of spaces that could ultimately be needed Downtown.
The original plan to add 1,700 spaces was based on a projection that 50,000 square feet of development would be added to the Downtown each year, said Miriam Mack, the City’s economic development manager.
However, a consultant hired by the City found that a little more than 100,000 square feet of new development had gone up since 2001, about a quarter of the projected amount.
Before deciding whether one or two new structures would be built on 5th and 6th streets, the City is implementing a plan to better use the existing parking stock Downtown, Mack said.
“If the City manages its existing parking resources more effectively, it would free up more parking spaces,” Mack said. “Considering both public and privately owned spaces, we have a sufficient inventory at this time.”
To free up parking spaces for shoppers, City officials recommend increasing the rates at the Downtown public parking structures to $8 – it currently only costs $7 to park from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“The parking Downtown is significantly under-priced, so employees are not parking in their buildings,” which charge higher rates, Mack said.
City officials also hope that by increasing the parking rates by a dollar, as well as eliminating the second hour of free parking, will help disperse employee parking back to private lots, Mack said. Some employees currently play a game of musical chairs, moving their cars in and out of the structures before their two free hours are up.
In addition, City officials want to explore ways to more efficiently utilize the 155 spaces the City leases from 100 Wilshire, the white 20-story office building on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.
Many shoppers don’t know that there are private lots with parking spaces that are available at night, a problem that could be corrected with better signage, Mack said.
Urging people to use bicycles or public transit could help reduce the number of parking spaces that may be needed Downtown, Mack said. The Expo Light Rail line that could roll into Downtown within the next five years also should lower the parking demand.
Meanwhile, 125 surface parking spaces will become temporarily available after the council earlier this year gave the go-ahead to demolish the former interim library building that was purchased with other properties on 5th Street in 2007.
When not used as parking, the site could serve as a construction staging area when Structures 1 and 6 are replaced, City officials said. It also could be used to house the City’s maintenance equipment when Structure 1 – which is currently being used by the maintenance crew – is torn down.
“We don’t know exactly how that property will be needed,” Mack said.
The Civic Center Parking Structure and the parking garage at the Main Library will help pick up the loss of the 300 parking spaces when each of the smaller structures are torn down beginning in 2012.
City officials have committed to periodically revisiting the Downtown Parking Program to gauge demands for parking in the District, which will also be the terminus of the last leg of the Expo light rail line.
The City has purchased several sites where new structures could be built if the need for additional parking arises.