As downtown Austin continues to grow and thrive, it gets harder and harder to find a parking spot. For city planners, there are two ways to view this phenomena: either as a problem or an opportunity.
It is clear that parking is becoming a problem: the easier it is to park downtown, the more people will come downtown to shop, eat, live, work, and entertain themselves. High parking costs are already an obstacle to businesses thinking of moving into the city center. Many companies who can afford the rent are put off by the $150-$200 / month cost of providing parking for each and every employee. As parking costs continue to rise, it becomes a tax on every Austinite who wants to enjoy downtown, and it lowers the value of business and buildings who don’t see as many visitors as they might if parking were cheap and plentiful.The result hurts the city by reducing sales tax and property tax revenues.
Other cities with emerging downtowns have overcome similar obstacles by building — or providing incentives to build — abundant free parking. In Fort Worth, for example. the Bass family which controls much of the land in the heart of downtown, built a successful pedestrian downtown by combining rapid multi-use pedestrian-friendly development with abundant free parking (and a private downtown security force). The combination worked and downtown Fort Worth has gone from an abandoned urban core to a vibrant 24×7 downtown in a little more than a decade.
Austin has a different plan. The City has proposed a Municipal Parking Authority which would build garages throughout downtown in partnership with developers in a joint venture that would bring in millions of dollars of parking revenue to the city. At $19,000 a space, parking is expensive to build. While the City clearly sees the parking shortage as a opportunity to add capacity and earn money for the city, this perspective may be short-sited. By focusing more on low cost parking and less on profits, the city could likely generate more revenue through sales and property taxes as well as hie prices for city owned land sold in the future.