Downtown developers cut parking to cut costs

Real Development's controversial Exchange Place project may have fewer public parking spaces than previously thought, new city documents show.

Developers cut one level of the garage and reallocated the spaces dedicated to tenants and the public when they cut costs to make the deal more palatable for Wichita City Council members.

Now the proposed garage near Douglas and Market would have only 64 spaces saved for public parking. That's down from 103 promised earlier this month, which was down from the 149 projected in March. Meanwhile, the number of spaces reserved for apartment tenants increased from 195 to 209.

Michael Elzufon, CEO of Real Development, said there will be more like 196 spaces available for the public during the day.

After reviewing several national studies, developers calculate that only about 37 percent of apartment tenants will need their spaces during the day.

That would open about 132 stalls on top of the 64 reserved for the public, he said.

"We're going to have, on any given day, well over 100 parking stalls available for the public," he said.

Public parking was one of the primary justifications the city cited for providing developers with $10.3 million in tax increment financing. And parking is the biggest part of the finance package, totaling $7.8 million.

Council member Lavonta Williams said that she hasn't had time to review the new proposal but that she expects the city will be able to work something out, even though the numbers are written into the legal documents.

"I'm not going to hold that as set in stone," she said. "Does it concern me? Yes. Because it takes away some of the public parking we've been talking about."

The proposed garage would feature high-tech automated parking.

Drivers would pull into the garage, park in a small bay and machines would carry the car away to an open spot. Drivers can also pay a little more and have their car washed while they're away.

They can text message, go online or call concierge services to retrieve their cars. Or, if they don't plan ahead, they could have their car retrieved in less time than it would take to get out of a traditional parking garage, Elzufon said.

Prices haven't been set. But Elzufon said it would be a low-rate garage and that developers will likely offer free parking for people using the grocery store they envision in the development.

Such automated parking systems are primarily used in dense urban areas in Europe and Asia. They provide more parking space and less area dedicated to driving lanes and walkways, reducing the size of the garage and saving money over time, developers say.

Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell said he still believes the project is good for Wichita and that he thinks the parking aspect will continue to evolve. He said he's not sure the public will embrace the automated parking.

"I'm just always skeptical that people will feel comfortable with pulling in there and their car disappearing," he said. "It's hard enough sometimes to get people to park on the third or fourth floor of a parking garage. And it's hard sometimes to get people to use valet parking even if it's free."

He said if the garage is going to be widely used, many Wichitans will probably have to change their mindset.

"We may have to revisit that issue before it's all over," he said.

Elzufon said that once people try it, they'll love it.

"People didn't embrace microwave ovens when they came out because they wondered if it would blow up," he said, joking. "This is a safer and more efficient environment."

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