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No easy answer to solve downtown parking problems

By: Darren MacDonald - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jan 28, 2014 - 5:12 PM |
This 113-spot parking structure on Cedar Street closed this week because of structural concerns. It will be replaced this summer with a ground-level lot that will hold less than half the number of parking spaces. Photo by Arron Pickard.

This 113-spot parking structure on Cedar Street closed this week because of structural concerns. It will be replaced this summer with a ground-level lot that will hold less than half the number of parking spaces. Photo by Arron Pickard.

Rates too high for shoppers, but too low to make parking garage profitable

The sudden closure of a 113-spot parking structure this week has thrown the spotlight on the parking conundrum downtown: there is demand for more spaces, but current parking rates are too low to support a standalone structure.

The Cedar Street parking facility owned by the D'Aloisio family closed Monday because of structural concerns. Paul D'Aloisio said their consulting engineers – J.L. Richards – advised them to close it a few months ahead of schedule.

The family already planned to tear it down this summer and replace it with a ground-level lot with about 45 spaces. They made the decision last summer when they realized it wasn't feasible to renovate or rebuild the entire facility.

J.L. Richards created a plan to close the Cedar Street lot, but concerns about the structure – especially in light of the mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake in 2012 – prompted a quicker decision.

“Just to be extra cautious, they felt it would be best to shut it down sooner than later,” D'Aloisio said. “So we followed their recommendation.”

While there is strong demand for parking – he said they were normally 90-95 per cent full – he said the cost of building a new multi-level structure far exceeds the revenue they would get from the spots.

“Oh, for sure,” D'Aloisio said, when asked if average parking rates downtown of about $100 a month is too low to make a new structure profitable. “Construction costs would be quite high ... So we'll re-open a ground-level lot, which will be a lot less complicated, but with fewer parking spots. And that's not good for downtown.”

He estimated rates of about $200 a month would be necessary to make a structure feasible. A $7.5-million, 250-spot parking structure is part of Greater Sudbury's Downtown Master Plan, but the city has been unable to find a private-sector partner willing to build and run it, for the same reason.

And Health Sciences North abandoned plans to build a 750-spot, multi-level parking structure because of the costs – as much as $25 million to $30 million. Instead, they are negotiating with their neighbours to buy enough land to build a surface lot instead.

A study completed in 2011 found the city had 1,570 parking spaces downtown, while the private sector had 1,920. Demand is expected to increase by 12-13 per cent over the next 10 years, or by 300-800 spots.

Maureen Luoma, executive director of Downtown Sudbury, said Tuesday there are no easy answers to the parking woes. Consumers routinely cite the cost of parking as a barrier to
shopping downtown. Yet adding more spaces isn't easy because there's not enough land to do it on the surface, and a multi-level structure would be too costly.

“It's a problem that needs to be addressed, no doubt about it,” Luoma said. “But obviously, there isn't a magic bullet answer.

“When we talk about parking rates being too low globally, I don't think the public would agree with that,” she said. “And in our community, to the best of my knowledge, we're the only commercial district that charges for parking. That makes it a bit of a challenge, as well.”

Sudburians are still very attached to their vehicles, she said, and until that changes, parking will be a big issue for the survival of many downtown businesses. At the same time, a lot of people work downtown, and one of the goals of the master plan is to encourage more residential development in the area. Both groups require long-term parking spots, she said.

One possible solution is creating a parking structure with a commercial element, so it doesn't have to rely solely on money from parking.

“So at street level, you would have retail,” Luoma said. “But as Mr. D'Aloisio said, to get to that price point where you would get your money back is crazy.”

But if she was looking for a space, Luoma said she would be calling one of the city lots, where spaces are available, but you will have to walk a few minutes to get to work.

“It's good exercise, right?” she said. “You may have to walk five or 10 minutes, but if you don't need your car during the day, there is space there.”

Another possibility would be to use land on the other side of the CP Rail tracks downtown. If the city and the railway could agree on creating some sort a passage across the tracks, it could open up a new parking area.

“I know the municipality is working on it, and is in discussions with the railway to create some sort of crossover,” Luoma said. “That connection would make it a lot more convenient.”
Darren MacDonald

Darren MacDonald

Staff Writer


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