West Seventh parking woes tackled

A. Lee Graham lgraham@bizpress.net

Possible solutions to West Seventh Street parking woes could hit motorists in the wallet. Though nothing has been decided, restricted and metered parking are under consideration for alleviating the congestion that’s plagued the West Seventh Street corridor since its redevelopment. “There will be no easy solution in the short term,” said Jordan Johnson, a broker at Peloton Commercial Real Estate, which has helped bring several businesses into the thriving West Seventh Street corridor between University Drive to the west and Stayton Street to the east.

As a board member of the Cultural District Alliance, a nonprofit agency promoting the district, Johnson hopes to strike a balance between encouraging shoppers and providing enough parking spaces for those visitors as well as the businesses that serve them. With that in mind, the alliance and city officials are discussing possible parking solutions. One possibility is paid parking, with metered parking spaces considered not only as a way to accommodate visitors, but also to discourage visitors from occupying a space for hours on end. Other cities have found the approach beneficial. Since implementing extended parking meter hours in downtown, the city of Austin has reported success. The effort extended those hours into the evening from 5:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays. The goal was encouraging more space turnover rather than using long-term parking.

Before the extension, the city reported only 0.5 turns per night of the 3,000 on-street spaces. That meant parking exceeded capacity and only allowed one visitor per space after 5 p.m., according to a memo from the city’s transportation department to the mayor and city council. Since paid parking was instituted, the average length a motorist remains parked per meter is two hours and seven minutes, translating into an average turnover rate of 3.3 turns per space per night, according to city documents. The city deemed the experiment a success in making downtown parking more accessible. At about 400 total public parking spaces, Fort Worth’s West Seventh district is smaller but no less significant in parking challenges. “Once meters come into an area, the reality is that it creates more street parking,” Johnson said. “It’s really not driven by revenue for the city as much as it is creating more turnover for on-street parking.”

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Some developers already have tackled the problem. Cypress Equities, the district’s leading landlord, operates a parking garage along the trendy Crockett Street just south of West Seventh Street, specifically for those patronizing the development. And when iProspect.com Inc. opened its Foch Street office, the interactive marketing company leased 175 parking spaces from the Fort Worth Independent School District in the northeast section of the Farrington Field parking lot. The lease agreement, approved in February 2012, provides iProspect.com with needed parking spaces on property just skirting the district. Calls seeking comment from iProspect.com and the Fort Worth school district were not returned. “That is a great thing to see, but I don’t know much about other opportunities to do that type of thing,” Jordan said of the leasing arrangement.

A city official said his department is open to suggestions for alleviating West Seventh parking congestion. “We’ve kind of got an open door with them to say, ‘Come on in. We’re more than happy to talk about these things,’’ said Doug Wiersig, the city’s transportation and public works director. Wiersig described the challenge as a private sector issue – for now. “We’re here to support, not tell them, how to operate their businesses,” Wiersig said of those owning businesses in the corridor. But if traffic creates motorist or pedestrian public safety concerns, “we would step in and be more proactive,” Wiersig said. Wiersig did not dismiss metered parking as a possibility, but said that no proposal is currently under consideration. The very nature of West Seventh’s mixed uses – office, retail, residential – makes some inconvenience inevitable, according to a district developer.

“In any successful urban environment in the United States and probably anywhere in the world that’s vibrant, it’s not set up to drive up and park on a street and just stroll in,” said Andrew Blake, principal of Presidio Interests LLC and Cultural District Alliance chairman. Among Presidio’s properties is Foch Street Warehouses, Building Two. The mixed-use facility attracts different visitors at different times of day, which helps plan traffic flow. “We understand that and deliberately lease to people based on our understanding of those [traffic] patterns,” Blake said. For example, when daytime office workers return home, their parking spaces are occupied by nighttime customers of Reservoir and Chimy’s Cerveceria, among other businesses. “That’s by design,” Blake said. As city officials and district continue discussing parking challenges, customers and businesses alike should expect no overnight solution. “We’re trying to do anything we can to help,” Johnson said.