Despite economic downturn provoked by the Great Recession, downtown Tempe is now seeing tremendous growth, which may soon cause a parking crunch in future years.
Nancy Hormann, executive director and president of Downtown Tempe Community, said in an email that although a surplus of parking exists, this might soon not be the case.
“We need to plan for the future, and we may have parking affected in the next five years,” she said. “We have not had to adjust anything as of yet. The city has planned well and everything is running smoothly at this time.”
Hormann said building vacancies in the downtown Tempe area have decreased as more and more people and companies file into the area.
“In the last few years, our office vacancy has gone from 27 percent to 3 percent,” she said. “We have added 250 new residential units and an additional 500 are either under construction or about to begin. We have added a new Marriott Residence Inn and several more developments are in the planning stages.”
Some parking spaces and garages are free for a certain time limit and after a certain hour, Hormann said.
“There are 280 free parking meters after 6 p.m. daily,” she said. “The City Hall Garage is free after 6 as well as the Fifth (Street) and Farmer (Avenue) surface lot. The City Hall, Hayden Square and US Airways Garages have the first hour free daily.”
Tempe city councilman Kolby Granville said the Mill Avenue District is now hopping despite economic shortcomings after 2008 when Mill Avenue tried to compete as a “mall” against Tempe Marketplace and rents were too high.
“This turned Mill Avenue into a ghost town,” he said. “In the last six to nine months, however, Mill Avenue has done a 180 degree turn and, it is fair to say, is one of the hottest areas for leasing in the Valley.”
Developments like Marina Heights, set to open in 2015, will change the landscape of downtown, Granville said.
“Developments take time,” he said. “However, I think it is correct to say that in five years the area along Mill Avenue and Rio Salado (Parkway) will look very different and host far more space than it does today.”
Granville said during his time on city councilhe has received a few emails regarding downtown Tempe parking.
“Recently, I was told (downtown) will soon be underparked,” he said. “My personal sense is Mill Avenue is underparked.”
Granville says he does have some solutions to help improve downtown parking and help bring more consumers to the area.
“I think Mill Avenue should go to dynamic parking prices for meters,” he said. “So, when there is enough parking, parking should be free. Then, as parking fills up, the price of parking goes up.”
This would mean that during peak times, such as a Friday night, metered parking might be expensive, but that on an early Saturday morning, parking could be free, Granville said.
“The goal of parking isn’t to make money,” he said. “It is to encourage people to use it wisely during peak demand. At the end of the day, we simply need additional structure parking off Mill Avenue and need to stop approving projects that are underparked.“
Tempe City Councilwoman Robin Arredondo-Savage said a study revealed at a meeting in late October described the layout of the parking now and where there might be shortages.
“I think what we really learned is there’s not necessarily a shortage of parking, but it’s kind of more of a perception of parking that there is a shortage,” she said.
The city will soon hire an outside firm to analyze the parking situation more in-depth, Arredondo-Savage said.
“We’re working on a really comprehensive study,” she said.
Arredondo-Savage said as downtown Tempe continues to grow, it is important for the city to accommodate for that growth.
“We don’t want that to be a deterrent for people to come downtown,” she said. “I think that we can make sure as growth happens that we are able to adapt and accommodate what those needs are.”
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