What once seemed unthinkable, with downtown’s abundance of surface lots, is becoming reality. The central business district is facing a parking crunch.
Parking on the east side of downtown is becoming harder to find—enough to prompt some rates to rise—thanks to a trio of real estate developments replacing surface parking lots.
“Those spaces are rapidly decreasing,” Mark Pratt, CEO of Denison Parking, said of surface lots. “We may see a few more [parking] shuttles as time goes on.”
The section of downtown known as the Market East district has lost nearly 700 spaces since September, starting with the closing of the parking lot along East Washington Street north of the Marion County Jail to make way for construction of the $20 million IndyGo transit center (see story, page 17).
To the east, across from the City-County Building, the parking lot bounded by East Washington and Market streets closed at the end of the year as Cummins Inc. prepares to build its $30 million, 10-story global distribution center.
Most recently, the surface lot to the north of East Market Street closed Feb. 13 so Flaherty & Collins Properties can start construction of its $121 million, 28-story apartment-and-retail development.
Indianapolis-based Denison Parking manages 62 properties in the city and operated the two city-owned lots on which Cummins and Flaherty & Collins are building.
Overall, more than a quarter of the 2,560 parking spaces in the Market East quadrant will be disappearing, Pratt said.
The number of lost spaces includes the 66-space lot north of Wabash Street and north of Flaherty & Collins’ development. It will be closed for about two years to accommodate construction equipment, while the project rises from the ground.
Adding to the parking dilemma is the temporary closure of a 315-space garage west of the City-County Building on East Market Street that won’t reopen until sometime this summer.
The squeeze led EZ Park of Indianapolis to raise rates earlier this month for daily parkers at two of the surface lots it operates. Daily rates at the 150-space lot across from the Marion County Jail increased from $6 to $8 and from $5 to $6 at the elevated lot at South Alabama and Maryland streets.
Tina Carr, an attendant at the ramped lot, said the number of daily parkers there, most of whom are visitors to the City-County Building, has more than doubled, to 100, since the closing of the three surface lots.
“She fills up first,” Carr said of the EZ Park lot across from the jail, “and then they trickle up here.”
Carr is seeing more demand from monthly parkers, too. The closing of the lot north of the jail started a domino effect, pushing high-ranking sheriff’s department officials into the city-owned parking garage to the south, along Virginia Avenue. Those moves, in turn, threw some jail employees into the elevated lot to the east.
“They have no room for us over there,” said one jail employee, referring to the parking garage. She said jail policy bans her from providing her name to the media.
The Virginia Avenue garage—built to accommodate crowds for events at Bankers Life Fieldhouse—still has business-hours capacity. Denison, which manages the facility for the city, will be hanging a huge 25-foot by 25-foot banner from the façade alerting motorists of the parking option in light of lot closures. The daily rate will remain at $8 and won’t increase, Pratt said.
Denison also will place signage along Alabama Street to help direct traffic to various other nearby parking options.
Parking isn’t disappearing altogether; it’s just moving into garages. The Market Square project alone will add 600 parking spaces. The Flaherty & Collins project, dubbed 360 Market Square, also is expected to generate $1.5 million in annual property taxes on a site that isn’t producing anything.
The Cummins parking garage will have roughly 400 spaces but none available to the public.
“It’s a natural evolution of cities,” said Adam Thies, director of the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development.
The loss of so many spaces in such a short time is prompting Downtown Indy to launch a parking study in conjunction with Indianapolis-based Walker Parking Consultants.
Fred Laughlin, who retired from Downtown Indy at the end of last year as its vice president of management services, still performs consultancy work for the organization and is serving as its point person for the study.
The parking analysis, which should be finished in July, will survey the east side of downtown, from bustling Massachusetts Avenue through the Market East district.
Laughlin argues that the loss of roughly 1,000 spaces on that side of downtown hardly puts a dent in the number available in the entire central business district: a whopping 74,350 as of 2013.
“It’s funny how emotional people get about their parking spot,” Laughlin said. “People are going to have to walk a block or two to find parking. But it’s available, and it’s relatively inexpensive.”
The northwest side of downtown lost a large parking lot to Flaherty & Collins’ Axis at Block 400 apartment project, anchored by a Marsh Supermarkets store. But the parking garage built on the site has helped alleviate the loss, Laughlin said.
Other mixed-use developments with parking components, such as TWG Development LLC’s Pulliam Square project under construction on part of the former Indianapolis Star site, also should have public-parking available.
But the pain might get even worse on the east side of downtown before it gets better. Pending lane restrictions on Wabash and Market streets tied to the construction of Flaherty & Collins’ 360 Market Square project will make it even more difficult to access the parking garage on the east side of New Jersey Street.
The 1,800-space garage still has plenty of availability, Pratt at Denison said, despite the 300 spaces reserved for Artistry apartment residents. Once completion of the project’s second phase is finished, an additional 300 spaces will be gobbled up.
“It’s increasing demand and diminishing supply,” Pratt said. “Parking lots are a fairly hot commodity right now.”•