Will new buildings take a toll on parking in the south end?

By Burk Krohe

Manhattan’s downtown redevelopment plans have sought to create an urban environment in the core downtown and the north and south ends, and by most accounts, the city has succeeded. However, of the challenges that come with high density areas sharing residential and retail space, the most notable is parking.

This challenge is becoming evident in the south end. Recently, Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center, on Third Street south of Colorado Street, and the Flint Hills Discovery Center, on Third Street north of Colorado Street, opened in the redevelopment area, adding to the Fairfield Inn already located in the area. Other projects are scheduled to come on line in the near future.

Last week, the Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board allowed developer HCW-Manhattan to seek permission to construct a four-story, mixed-use building in part of an off-street parking lot near the Hilton. The building is expected to include a first-floor restaurant and coffee shop, with the remaining floors consisting of 24 apartments.

Additionally,“Lot 9,” a roughly 4-acre site just north of Ft. Riley Boulevard and adjacent to the Hilton, will begin development soon. The lot was broken into smaller lots and will be developed piece by piece. The first piece of the development will be a Candlewood Suites, followed by a Holiday Inn Express and then a multi-story, mixed-use building envisioned to have restaurants and retail on the first floor and apartments on the remaining floors.

The Manhattan City Commission also approved scheduling a final hearing for an economic development package, which would bring another mixed-use building to the surrounding area. On April 1, commissioners favored CivicPlus’ plans for a multi-story, 50,000-square-foot office building at the corner of Fourth and Pierre streets. The first floor, like the other mixed-use buildings, is envisioned to be retail and restaurant space, while the remaining floors will be offices for the technology firm. The option to add apartments to the building will remain open as well.

The potential implications of these developments are not lost on local officials.

“It’s something we’re talking about,” Eric Cattell, assistant director for planning, said.“There’s no easy solutions.”

Last week’s planning board meeting saw overcrowding concerns from board chairman Jerry Reynard and board member Linda Morse. When Lyle Butler, president and CEO of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, updated county commissioners on CivicPlus’ new building, Commissioner Karen McCulloh asked Butler flatly where people would park. Mayor Loren Pepperd also has shown continued concern over parking issues within the city.

“It will obviously pressure parking in and around downtown,” Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, said. “We kind of hope that will happen, quite honestly.”

The city believes tight parking is an indication of a vibrant urban area—exactly what it has been working to build with downtown redevelopment.

Cattell noted the majority of the downtown area is zoned as C-4, which carries no parking requirements.

Hilgers said when looking at downtown parking, all forms of public parking must be considered. He said that means looking beyond the newly constructed parking garage just south of the Hilton. The garage contains 437 parking stalls, but the Manhattan Town Center parking lot, which provides up to 728 surplus parking stalls, is also open to the public in addition to other lots and on-street parking stalls.

The city is confident shared parking can work. Cattell said businesses often have different peak times for activity and parking will rely on those cycles. Hilgers added that there is also a balance between all-day parking and timed parking in the downtown area that can be adjusted to facilitate more turnover. He described it as a balancing act and said it comes down to active management.

“That’s where the balance of land use is important,” Cattell said.

The parking garage also is equipped to go to paid parking if needed. However, Hilgers said the move to paid parking would need to be planned with businesses in the downtown areas. A sudden, uncoordinated shift to paid parking could push people farther away from the area. Hilgers said the city wants to work with downtown business owners to keep customers in the area and happy.

But city officials don’t think the demand for parking has outpaced the supply yet. Hilgers said there could come a point at which the city considers additional parking infrastructure, a new lot or garage, but said, “We don’t believe we’ve reached that capacity.” Cattell said it’s something that will have to be monitored. The city is still looking forward, though.

“To sit here and say we won’t react would be short sighted,” Hilgers said.

The City Commission adopted the Manhattan Area Transportation Strategy: Connecting to 2020 in 2000. The goal of the plan is to “identify the transportation infrastructure and services needed to meet the needs of the community through the year 2020.” Part of the plan addresses public parking in the Aggieville and downtown areas.

According to the document, when it was adopted there was a 929-space deficit in the downtown area based on a ratio of 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet of development, which was in line with national averages. But it continues, “Future conditions in the downtown area require further analysis of land use, zoning, economic forecasts and parking access to determine the most appropriate parking demand estimates.”

The plan made several recommendations concerning parking in downtown. One recommendation, which the city has advocated, was utilizing the mall’s surplus parking stalls. A downtown shuttle service to reduce the number of cars in the area was another recommendation.

Additionally, the plan suggested developing a parking management organization operated by the city or a downtown business group. The goal would be to maximize the parking supply through education and enforcement. The final suggestion involved creating policies defining parking ratios, levels of service and funding for development projects in downtown. Ideally, the policies could be used to define the amount of parking provided by the development community and the city.

“I think we’re right up against updating the transportation plan,” Hilgers said.

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