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$35,000 parking spaces

August 20, 2012 - Harry Eagar
Least surprising local news of the week is that the county will not proceed with making the Wailuku Municipal Parking Lot a multi-story garage, at a cost of $35,000 per stall gained.

That’s right. The parking spot would cost more than the car parked in it.

This is usual. When I worked in Des Moines, Iowa, the city built a series of multistory parking garages downtown, and each stall cost roughly twice what a new car cost in those days. The garages charged 35 cents an hour to park, and, remarkably, that was sufficient revenue to pay off the bonds. (In Des Moines, they used something called “tax increment financing,” which was a form of betting on the come – the bonds were supported by the expected increase in property taxes that was to come about when the garage made surrounding property more valuable; the parking lot equivalent of trickle-down economics. It worked, in the sense that the bonds did not default. It did not work, in the sense that the city was trying to revitalize downtown. People did not decide to forgo free parking at the suburban malls in order to pay 35 cents to park downtown.)

Should a Wailuku multistory garage get built, and should it be required to be self-supporting, presumably it would have to charge in the neighborhood of 75 cents an hour. Since the municipal lot is used largely by workers who park without charge, I do not see them welcoming the opportunity to pay $6 a day to park.

It shouldn’t have required an environmental impact statement to figure this out.

There’s a reason multistory garages are uncommon. They are ridiculously expensive. Only resorts, whose land is even more ridiculously expensive, have them; and Queen Kaahumanu Center.

At Kaahumanu Center, the owners (at the time, ML&P) wanted to retain their standing as the primo mall on the island, because of a rule of thumb in the mall business that the No. 1 mall enjoys an 8% premium in revenue over lesser malls. Unable to grow out, Kaahumanu Center had to go up, making itself two stories and adding two very expensive parking garages.

As it turned out, it didn’t work, for several reasons. One, Duncan McNaughton built a loooong strip mall along Dairy Road and placed in it a lot of stores that normally you’d find in the local dominant mall, like Sports Authority. Two, because Maui is a tourist island, Shops at Wailea and Whalers Village scarfed up the high-end retailers like Coach that normally you’d find at the local primo mall.

But Shops at Wailea did not become the local primo mall because it doesn’t have the stores that draw people to the dominant mall for their day-to-day shopping – no Macy’s or equivalent.

As often happens, Mainland rules don’t apply here.

Wailuku is certainly congested, but it is not obviously a place to put expensive parking: In general, it has the lowest commercial rents around.

So parking is likely to remain a pain in Wailuku. The only old city I have been in where no-charge parking downtown is not a pain is Savannah, Georgia. It was founded as a military colony and the original layout set aside every sixth block or so for militia training grounds.

Remarkably, these were not poached for development even after militia uses receded. As a result, there are miles of empty block fronts where cars can park a short distance from the built-up blocks where people want to go. It’s awfully expensive in land, but it works.

 
 

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