As a few developments under construction in downtown San Luis Obispo eat up public parking lots, local leaders are moving ahead with plans for a new parking structure.
The city’s plans for a parking garage on a 77-space surface lot at Palm and Nipomo streets were put on hold in 2007 as the economy tanked, but the economy has since improved. Large projects, including Chinatown and Garden Street Terraces are underway, removing more than 200 public parking spaces between them.
With that in mind, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with an environmental review and a final design of the so-called Palm Nipomo parking structure, which would have at least 400 parking spaces and cost an estimated $23.6 million.
“We’ve obviously been driving to this point (for) a long time with closure of our surface lots,” Councilman Dan Carpenter said. “We’ve been moving in this direction. It’s time to move forward.”
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The No. 1 reason that people don’t come downtown is parking. Parking is important to our downtown businesses, and we’re competing as a downtown to have people come and park.
Amy Kardel, chairwoman of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s Parking & Access Committee
The council also directed staff to develop an agreement with San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, so the community theater can build a new venue on a portion of the parking garage site and move from its current home at 888 Morro St., where it leases the former San Luis Obispo County Library building from the city.
In March 2000, the council approved an agreement with the Little Theatre to relocate to part of the parking lot, but that agreement has expired, according to a city staff report.
“We believe the timing is right to move forward with this project,” Little Theatre’s managing artistic director Kevin Harris told the council.
The Little Theatre has experienced substantial growth over the past several seasons, Harris said, nearly doubling its annual budget since 2010 and consistently selling out. The company saw 93 percent average capacity during its recent 2014-15 season, he told The Tribune last year.
Patty Thayer, communications and development director, said at that time that the new theater would likely double in size, growing to as many as 250 seats from 100.
We’ve obviously been driving to this point (for) a long time with closure of our surface lots. It’s time to move forward.
San Luis Obispo Councilman Dan Carpenter
Also speaking in support Tuesday of the new parking garage was Charlene Rosales, director of governmental affairs for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce; Amy Kardel, as chairwoman of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s Parking & Access Committee; and Damien Mavis, one of the owners of The Creamery in downtown San Luis Obispo.
The Creamery owners received approval last fall for plans to remodel the center. The owners also have plans to construct new buildings in the two existing private parking lots, Mavis told the council.
“I definitely endorse you moving forward with the EIR (environmental impact report) and getting this project scheduled,” Mavis said. “It’s literally 150 feet away from our site.”
He also suggested the council consider selling overnight passes in the lot to get revenue at a time when the parking spaces are underutilized.
Kardel, of the Parking & Access Committee, said parking is key to the vitality of downtown businesses.
“The No. 1 reason that people don’t come downtown is parking,” she said. “Older folks with mobility issues find parking more difficult and prefer to park out front like they always have.”
2,582 Number of parking spaces downtown.
2,375 Number of spaces left after accounting for spots that are temporarily unavailable due to maintenance, misparked vehicles or other factors.
1,730 Number of spaces occupied on average during peak parking demand times, leaving a third of spots open
The council also agreed that staff can pursue a partnership with the chamber, the Downtown Association, SLO Regional Rideshare and local businesses to find ways to more effectively use parking spaces downtown. Even during peak parking times — between noon and 2 p.m. Thursday afternoons, for example — only about two-thirds of the city’s spaces are occupied, according to an assessment by Walker Parking Consultants.
“Parking is available, but the public may not know how to find it,” said Tim Bochum, the city’s deputy director of transportation in the Public Works Department.
Bochum said the earliest the city could start construction on the new structure is the 2017-18 fiscal year, and it might have to borrow as much as $17.6 million to do so. Another $6 million would come from the city’s parking fund.