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EDITORIAL: City can solve parking crunch

April 2, 2016

Massachusetts Avenue has most of what you’d expect in a thriving urban neighborhood: popular businesses and desirable housing packed into a relatively dense, walkable area. What it lacks is ample parking, an essential asset in a city whose public transit system doesn’t work for most people.

But there’s an opportunity to address the parking deficiency with the development of the 11-acre Indianapolis Public Schools site now up for grabs between the 800 block of Mass Ave and East 10th Street.

IPS is weighing offers from four developers who want to buy the site and develop it with housing, retail and office space and other uses ranging from schools to theaters to parks. Most of the projects request some level of city subsidy, but not for what might most justify such aid: a public parking garage that would relieve pressure on the neighborhood and the businesses that have invested nearby.

Most patrons of Mass Ave bars, restaurants and stores live within walking distance or drive in from more suburban locales. Those who drive in add greatly to the area’s vitality but have fewer places to park. The development of surface lots and the loss of on-street parking have driven down parking supply as demand for spaces increased.

The shortage has become a problem for neighborhood dwellers and for businesses whose patrons and employees can’t find viable parking options. The Phoenix Theatre, a neighborhood anchor, is planning to move elsewhere downtown, in large part because of its need for more modern facilities. But early conversations about the move focused on the inability of theater patrons to find a place to park.

The redevelopment of the IPS property could alleviate Mass Ave’s parking problem—or make it worse, depending on how those involved proceed.

IPS has formed a committee to vet development proposals and will make a recommendation to the IPS board, which is expected to vote in late April to sell the site to one of the developers. All the proposals feature enticing amenities, and all include parking. But it's unlikely that developers, without the benefit of a city subsidy, would build enough spaces to address Mass Ave's broader parking problems.

It’s hard to imagine a better time for the city to intervene. The Hogsett administration, which will have to sign off on whatever proposal emerges from the IPS process, should send a signal now that incorporating a public parking garage at the site is a city priority.

The city engineered construction of a 350-space public garage in Broad Ripple in 2012 to alleviate a parking crisis in that entertainment district. It had to identify a site and a developer and heavily subsidize the project. In this case, the site and developers are obvious. If a garage subsidy is required, so be it—solving the parking puzzle is in the public interest. We urge the city to use its considerable leverage to make sure a public parking garage is part of the mix.•

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