For those who haven't heard, COTPA is selling off parking garage after parking garage, which is building up funding for...new parking garages! I have some thoughts on those, first based on comments in the Oklahoman article.
Pete White is excited about the site at NW 10th and Robinson. Jim Couch says that regardless of whether they decide to target the office needs or mixed-use needs, both would be wins as far as downtown parking goes.
Theoretically, Couch is right. However the only problem with that is that this city currently has zero public parking facilities in mixed-use districts. All of this city's parking garages have been in the office core of downtown, which is anything but mixed-use and will remain that way for a while.
The proposed sites are as follows (I went ahead and ranked the sites based on favorability overall, but I admit I haven't really thought a whole lot about ALL of the sites yet):
I think that some of these sites have a lot of strengths. Immediately rising to the top of the list are the two proposed sites that bookend the streetcar system (1 & 2), for strategic purposes. These sites (SW corner of Bricktown and 10th and Robinson), rise above the fray for a multitude of reasons.
Mixed-use: Both of these sites serve mixed-use areas that have a strong need for a parking solution, which I'll talk about more. But I do believe that serving the mixed-use areas, and just developing mixed-use in general, needs to be a higher priority. We have office towers. We have office space. Available office space. Garages that serve office workers. And so on. As far as mixed-use goes, well, it's another situation altogether. We know that this needs to be a priority. We also know that most of the downtown "renaissance" has been spearheaded by adding some mixed-use development.
Parking need: A year ago we did not think there would be any parking need for the office core. Today, it looks like there is a need that exists. But we have known that Bricktown needed a parking solution for a LONG time. That parking crunch could be solved by adding more street parking, like is going to be done along N. Broadway. Speaking of Automobile Alley, we know that there is a strong need for parking around NW 9th, where retail has a foothold downtown. These small businesses and trendy restaurants don't have the resources to deal with parking on their own. However, a block or two away, parking can be easily found. Bricktown obviously has the strongest need.
Transit synergy: It would be vital for a new downtown parking masterplan to take advantage of the new streetcar system, which will serve as a walkability extender (extending the length of "walkable trips" across downtown). So any proposed site that isn't right on the tram route should be thrown away automatically. Furthermore, the Bricktown site happens to be right where there is a proposed garage to serve the OKC Transit Hub, which will be developed out of the old Santa Fe Depot facility. The parking garage would be needed for commuter rail and Amtrak rail, and would be connected via underground tunnels. We would need to talk about how to fund that if that site isn't chosen as the next public parking garage that we now have funds to build.
Contributing to infill: Downtown needs infill. This is another established goal that public actions NEED to be contributing to solving. One of the proposed sites, the one at W. Main and Dewey-to-Shartel, would involve a number of building demolitions on a block with enormous preservation potential. W. Main is another one of those incredible old streetwalls that remain on the edge of downtown's office core. Let's preserve the density we have, and build density where we don't have it, and the CITY shouldn't be doing anything to contradict those goals at the very least. Sites that have the potential to support future development should be given priority as well.
The garages closer to the center fail to do this, although to this end, I would also not write off the site across from City Hall. I think that the Arts District, particularly the Preftakes-owned buildings, could become the next hotspot downtown. This garage could support that and also prevent other building demolitions for parking, which have been rumored from Preftakes for a while. Also as far as future development goes, we know that NW 10th is becoming a vital corridor, so I'd consider that a worthwhile site, and there is also a lot of development left to be done in Bricktown up against the tracks (including a site that Hogan is rumored to be developing soon south of Reno).
Accessibility: Access to the most efficient traffic flow will obviously be another important consideration. One thing I would remind people of is the pending demolition of the Crosstown Expressway land bridge--the replacement at-grade expressway will be right up against the proposed Bricktown garage. You don't get better access to traffic flow in and out of downtown than that. This also has the potential to serve proposed mixed-use sites along the "boulevard," provided that any of these blocks are left untouched once this convention complex gets built. This could be good and bad. If this "boulevard" is an auto highway like planned, a parking garage would just make that even worse. Instead of "Champs d'Elysses" you have essentially..E.K. Gaylord deux. NW 10th, being that emerging vital corridor, is also great from an accessibility standpoint. The other sites mostly involve a great deal of zig-zagging and circling construction sites to get to.
We will just have to watch the Alliance closely (or as close as possible) and see which direction they're thinking about going in. But while Couch is right that theoretically there are many different needs to serve in terms of parking, there aren't just all right answers--it may seem this way when you live your life in a vacuum of power and cronyism like Couch. There are wrong answers and right answers, even if only because we have office and don't have mixed-use. I would say though that it goes beyond that. Downtowns across the nation, no world, have identified the need for as much mixed-use as possible. Mixed-use is potentially going strong 24/7. When your downtown caters to office needs, it rolls up its sidewalks and closes all of its doors at 5. That's what kind of downtown we HAVE.
And here, we start looking at the differences in leadership styles. The more progressive, proactive cities are being led by transformational leaders. A transformational leader is somebody who ignores the status quo and says, "Yeah, that's how things are, but this is how things could be. This is the goal to be working toward." Meanwhile, a caretaker leader just covers their bases and propagates the status quo. These people shy away from visionary ideas. A caretaker leader would prefer to keep doing what we've been doing with parking (obviously with much success - not) whereas a transformational leader would explore the potential for a parking solution to continue turning the land use dilemma around.