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Near Southside examining parking options

The 1,400-acre Near Southside district is one of the most successful areas of the city, combining a rich mix of business, restaurants and entertainment, along with a varied mix of living options.

But as the area becomes more popular and development continues, parking has started to become an issue.

Though nowhere near as stifling as the issues in the West Seventh corridor, Near Southside leaders are conducting a study to examine options for the future.

“Certainly, there are nights where there are a lot of folks coming to Magnolia and it may be unlikely or impossible to find a spot that’s right near where your destination is,” said Mike Brennan, president of Near Southside Inc., the member-funded nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing the Near Southside.

“What we hear more and more from people is that ‘I was able to park a couple blocks away, and the walk from my car to where I was going was fine distance-wise, and it was actually really interesting. And, on the way back we stopped and got a coffee.’ It seems to be working well for that,” he said.

There were two key drivers that caused Near Southside to embark on a parking study, Brennan said.

One issue was the neighborhood south of Magnolia, where the increasing pressure for on-street parking used by visitors to the restaurants, as well as restaurant staff, was making spaces unavailable for the people that live in that area.

“The push from the neighborhood to have some type of program that would limit the impact of that spillover parking. That was one driver,” said Brennan.

The second driver was the new hotel and residential property at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and South Henderson Street that broke ground in March. The Dolabi Family Partnership and Bond Partners are behind the project, along with Bennett Benner Partners, architects, and Balfour Beatty, general contractor.

The 167,213-square-foot, six-story hotel will have 138 rooms, 15 condominiums, 17 extended-stay rooms and a three-room penthouse suite. The hotel will have a rooftop lounge and ground floor restaurant and bar, as well as a community park. The 409-space parking garage will have 150 spaces set aside for use in the district.

It’s one thing, he noted, to say there are 150 publicly available spaces; it’s another to know where they will be located, how they will be managed.

“For the garage to be utilized, we have to make sure that the alternative of parking in the neighborhood is no longer as convenient and appealing as it is today,” he said.

“The parking study that’s underway will look at all of those issues and will look at the potential for time restrictions or other strategies to make those premium on-street spaces that are located on Magnolia, make those turn over more frequently so that you can’t have staff, folks, that are occupying those spaces all the time,” he said.

Michael Bennett of Bennett Benner Partners, the architect of the hotel, said his firm is working with Near Southside on the parking study.

“We’re helping out, just analyzing all the parking needs in the Near Southside,” he said. “We’re looking [at how those needs] will be impacted by this garage and the space that it is providing.”

Brennan said they also will be looking at some smart city technologies to apply to the new garage.

“For example, is there a way for people to know just as they pull up to the garage, how many spaces are available, what levels those spaces are located on? There’s some of that stuff that we’re already seeing other garages in Fort Worth and of course everywhere else,” he said.

While the issues with parking in the garage are part of the study, so are some bigger issues. “The idea of pricing for parking, that’s a new conversation for Magnolia because it’s been free parking for the most part,” said Brennan.

That means talking to some of the privately-owned lots and garages in the district.

“If there is revenue produced by – whether it’s on-street parking or garage parking – is there a way for that revenue to directly benefit the district?” he said.

That revenue could be used to pay for other types of initiatives that could benefit the stakeholders in the area whose customers are paying for the parking, he said.

Alternatively, businesses could pay for parking through a validation program.

“That’s where we’re looking at other cities,” he said.

There also the idea of a Parking Benefit District, Brennan said, “Where you have an arrangement where within a defined area, revenue that’s coming out of that area goes back into what can be street-scape improvements, other programs that directly benefit that area, but also need to cover maintenance costs and maybe enforcement costs.”

Brennan hopes to see the parking study finished in the next four to five months.

“We should have a set of strategies to pursue,” he said. “And then, if anything costs money, then we’ve got to find the money to do it.”

The parking study will look, obviously, at parking, but it does touch on an issue that remains key for not just the Near Southside, but Fort Worth and North Texas: transportation.

Self-driving vehicles, electric vehicles and ride-sharing technologies are all having an impact on city planning.

“How can we better [utilize these new technologies] so that these facilities don’t have to spend millions and millions of dollars to store parked cars?” Brennan said.

That can free up a lot of productive space, Brennan notes.

Brennan also said the area is working with the city and county to see if they can get some autonomous vehicle technology tested in the area. They worked on getting the Drive.ai test project that ultimately went to Frisco.

But he said they remain open to finding a project that would work in the Near Southside area.