All Decked Out

A Look at the Pros and Cons of the Proposed Parking Deck in Fayetteville

By Blair Jackson

NWA Times Staff Graphic: Four site locations are being considered to house the parking deck. Each site will undergo a geo-technical evaluation to determine whether or not it is a viable option.

This time next year, construction of a parking deck is scheduled to begin in downtown Fayetteville. Adding a parking deck to the heart of the city’s entertainment district has been a topic of discussion among local government officials, business owners and citizens for years.

Now, though the project is being finalized, there are lingering questions not only about the parking deck’s place in the district, but also surrounding the legitimacy of the paid-parking program that was implemented in 2010.

Zac Wooden, owner of 21st Amendment on Dickson Street, said there is not enough business on Dickson Street to warrant a parking deck, saying, “We don’t even fill up the parking spaces we have during the week.”

City officials have a different opinion. David Jurgens, project manager for the construction of the parking deck, says, “The weight of evidence falls on the fact that we need a deck, and building it right and well is an investment in our future and the area.”

Jurgens references a 2005 study done by the UA that suggested more than 1,000 spaces would be necessary to accommodate a parking demand that was projected to increase with the growth of Dickson Street.

The study showed an immediate demand for “prime parking” locations, which are mapped either on or within a block of Dickson Street. According to the study, prime parking reaches capacity during peak evening hours; and during that time, parking in the subprime and peripheral categories reaches 54 percent and 30 percent capacity (respectively).

Subprime and peripheral parking spaces used during peak business hours — both during the days and evenings — are what the study considers surplus parking. Both peak times show surplus parking of approximately 850 spaces; however, during the day there is less of a demand for prime parking — with prime, subprime and peripheral parking showing 66 percent, 57 percent and 47 percent capacity. Total parking spaces used during all peak hours are shown to average 56 percent, which means the study revealed more than 40 percent of parking in the entertainment district remained unfilled over the course of the day.

The UA study identified a need for additional parking, not within these point-in-time statistics, but rather in the projected increase of business and development on and around Dickson Street.

Two major developments have been built in the entertainment district since 2005: The Underwood Plaza (now The Dickson) and the Legacy Building on West Street. The Dickson has its own parking deck, but the Legacy Building does utilize prime parking.

The 2005 report relies heavily on forecasts to support its recommendation of building a deck that would accommodate up to 1,020 spaces in order to service the anticipated daytime peak. This figure, which stands in drastic contrast to the Parking Deck Committee’s proposal of a deck that will house 300-350 spaces, can serve as a testament to the optimistic figures of 2005. Coincidentally, this is the same year that the UA released a report backing the downtown TIF district, an investment failure that has indebted Fayetteville to almost $4 million in bonds.

Both Jurgens and Paul Becker, Fayetteville’s financial director, described the project as a low-risk financial investment. Jurgens said no bonds will be issued until after a site and design have been chosen. Site approval is currently pending a geo-technical survey. “(After the) initial research, we will be able to budget a lot more closely,” Jurgens said.
Also, the city is making repayment plans based on current revenue, not on additional revenue from the parking deck.

“We don’t want to incur debt based on a speculative component of revenue,” said Becker. Initially, revenue from the parking deck will cover expansion and maintenance costs; any surplus will be used to assist in bond repayment. Though the conservative calculations for debt repayment do not require a certain percentage of occupancy within the parking deck, the question still remains — will the parking deck be used consistently on a daily basis? Does Fayetteville really need it?

In addition to the 2005 study, Jurgens calls upon citizens to consider their own personal experiences, especially during Razorback games and Walton Arts Center performances. “There is a consistent demand, several dozen times a year, where all of the normal parking spaces within a reasonable walking distance are full,” said Jurgens.

The city official continued, saying that any frustrations people have in finding parking spaces is evidence of need in present circumstances and that sufficient parking builds confidence among consumers and investors. He explained that businesses are more likely to invest in a location if customers have easy access to the location; and also that consumers are more likely to visit an area if they are confident in being able to find a parking space.

For some business owners, an addition to Fayetteville’s paid parking program is the last thing needed to catalyze business, saying that, to some, the program is considered as an inconvenience that has disrupted the public’s relationship with the entertainment district and prompted a decline in profits.

“We don’t have enough business because of paid parking,” said Wooden.

Don Choffel, owner of Dickson Street Bookstore, also attributes the decline in his business to the paid parking program, citing the complexity of the system as a deterrent to visitors and customers.

“I’ve talked to too many people who say they don’t come down to Dickson anymore.” Choffel suggests removing the current system: Either reverting to the free spaces or implementing coin-operated meters like those used in Fayetteville’s historic district surrounding the Downtown Square.

Choffel recently expanded his business, but has only been “breaking even” since the parking system was implemented. “(Customers) don’t want to pay a dollar in parking to pay for a $3.50 paperback,” said Choffel.

Becker, says the year’s Hotel-Motel-Restaurant taxes do not correlate with the statement that business on Dickson Street is in decline.

Strictly in terms of Dickson Street’s HMR taxes, Becker said, sales have increased compared to last year. “I have no evidence that would directly tie decline to when the paid parking was instituted. None of these numbers show the correlation,” he said.

The HMR tax report does not include retailers, like Don Choffel’s Dickson Street Bookstore; nor does it represent bars or private clubs that depend on liquor sales for profit, such as Smoke & Barrel. Becker said it is difficult to gauge gross sales for each industry represented on Dickson Street, and cannot ascertain a pattern that would accommodate the entertainment district in its entirety. “HMR is an indicator of activity,” he said.

One establishment that will benefit from the parking deck is the Walton Arts Center. The parking lot for the WAC is considered prime parking according to the 2005 study, and, based on that same report, the lot is filled to capacity during peak evening hours. In light of the WAC’s plan to build a 600 seat concert hall, the parking demand can be expected to increase as shows are held simultaneously in both halls.

Hypothetically, if all other prime parking is at capacity and both concert halls are offering shows, WAC visitors can be expected to park in approximately 170 spaces of the parking deck. (The figure is based on the 2005 study’s proposal that parking should increase by 280 spaces for every 1,000 seats.) This leaves 130 to 180 open spaces of prime parking for visitors — approximately half of the subprime parking that is being used during peak evening hours.

Jurgens said that the council’s decision to create a parking deck was independent of the WAC expansion and that the introduction of more prime parking is not geared exclusively to WAC clientele. “(The parking deck) is a component of the whole downtown parking program.”

He also noted that the city implemented the paid parking program with intentions of generating revenue for a parking deck before the WAC announced its plans for expansion, and said that any parallel timing goals for construction and completion are “truly coincidence more so than directly related.”

The city is currently in the process of hiring a preliminary designer who will evaluate each site and provide a layout for each location. The revenue from the initial year of the paid parking program will pay for all the preliminary work. After the preferred site is deemed geo-technically viable, bonds will be issued to begin construction.

Jurgens identified construction as a valid speculative concern that business owners and visitors may have in regard to the parking deck project. He noted that the committee is taking the concern into account when it meets with consultants. “A parking deck is never built in a cow field,” said Jurgens, who further explained by saying, “Experts design and build parking decks where the space is already tight. They are adept at minimizing their footprints during construction, and they are used to confining their work.”

For bar owner Zac Wooden, the end goal is to move forward, not to create further controversy.

“We want Dickson Street to work,” he said. “Business comes back; everyone gets adjusted to paid parking; economy is booming — that’s ideal. We want to breathe life back into Dickson Street.”

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