By Alysha Webb-Pigg for Eugene Daily News
With recent increases in metered parking fees in the Downtown Eugene area and lack of affordable convenient spaces, parking development is becoming a hot topic among local residents. Although we tend to look at the surface of our parking woes, like a .25 cent increase, it may be more beneficial to consider how the parking challenges have developed as a result of earlier city plans.
Jeff Petry, who is responsible for the City of Eugene’s Parking program, explained the sources of current parking problems in Eugene: few lots, high meter prices, and several crowded parking structures.
“The parking layout in downtown Eugene has changed as a result of our downtown surface lots being converted to higher and better uses. For example, the City has re-developed almost all of its downtown surface lots,” says Petry.
Petry also shared how 7 parking lots previously owned by the City of Eugene are now owned by other businesses and organizations in the region. He also spoke towards the areas that have become more modernized, saying that the
“…downtown core is what our Mayor and Council envisioned for downtown Eugene in 1964.”
While it was more than a few years ago, the 1964 Mayor was Edwin Earl Cone, who served from 1958-1968. During his term as Mayor, Cone saw through the completion of the City Hall as well as one of the first plans for an integrated downtown area. And, though downtown Eugene has seen plenty of evolution since 1964, the parking plans that were laid out during Cone’s term as Mayor in addition to updates throughout history have not proven themselves to be sufficient for the traffic that downtown Eugene experiences on a consistent basis. While beneficial and practical for a 1964 downtown region, the parking plans are no longer feasible.
To cover the cost of maintaining adequate parking structures, the downtown area used to share an equal number of lot spaces and parking structures.
“This is important to understand because parking lots are inexpensive to maintain and structures are very expensive to maintain,” Petry says.
“We currently have a major maintenance backlog of $5 million in our structures, on top of the $1 million/year we spend to maintain at their existing condition,” explains Petry. “Ideally, the development of City surface lots will generate more customer and employee demand in downtown Eugene that enables the parking structures to receive more revenue to maintain the public structures. We have reached this inflection point today, in our downtown.”
Surprisingly, even the structures that currently exist were not built using the Eugene City Parking budget, but rather through the use of funding from businesses and organizations around Eugene.
“The Overpark Parking Garage was built by contributions from the downtown businesses via an organization called the Downtown Development District, in 1969,” says Petry. “The Parcade and Hult Center Garages were built with resources from the Urban Renewal Agency.”
Seeing as how past parking garages and facilities in Eugene were financed by a community rather than the city, it is easy to see why no new structures have been developed in recent history. Much of the reason for this can be attributed to the high cost of constructing parking garages.
In fact, the cost to construct a single space in a parking structure is $30,000-$50,000.
Petry puts the reality of parking structure costs into perspective by sharing “… the Hult Center parking garage has 510 parking spaces. If a similar garage was built today, it would cost between $15 million and $25 million.”
Considering these parking garages cost so much to maintain and there are so few parking lots available downtown anymore, the nickel-and-diming process appears to make some sense.
All of these factors coming together have led to many complaints about the current parking situation in Eugene, especially on nights/weekends when that area can become riddled with traffic.
“The City has not built a parking garage in a long time,” Petry adds. “We have developed our surface lots, which has removed downtown parking spaces. It is harder to find a place to park downtown, right when a lot of new businesses are coming online, from LCC to Sizzle Pie.”
Seeing how most available parking spaces downtown are in parking structures, a lot more money is going into parking maintenance than it has in the past.
Chef Red Bone of Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen, who has lived in Eugene 34 years, believes that “the main change [in downtown parking] was when they took out the parking meters, which was great.”
As to improvements the city could make?
“They should provide more parking lots in better locations that have better access to a lot of the small businesses because it seems like a lot of the parking structures there now are geared towards the big businesses or the Hult Center, and are usually full,” explains Bone.
It seems the City Parking Developers and the citizens of Eugene can agree on a few things: there is an imbalance between parking lots with access to small businesses, there is a lack of parking spaces, and, after reading the statistics mentioned above, it is going to cost a little more on everyone’s part to create more affordable parking in downtown Eugene.
While the complications of the City of Eugene parking department may have some looking for a new job, Petry enjoys the work that he does.
“Parking provides the opportunity to meet new people every day and help them solve problems,” explains Petry.
With all of the issues currently facing the parking department in terms of cost and space available, it is not too far out of reach to anticipate some restructuring of downtown parking availability in the near future. And while increased parking costs in the downtown sector will help facilitate the development of a less “busy” area, nothing has been officially proposed in terms of parking expansion.