Since the Museum Square development began to take shape, local gallery owners in downtown Scottsdale’s Arts District have not been shy about voicing their concerns about its effect on parking.
City staff and the developer are now considering a number of solutions to assuage those concerns.
The gallery owners have been in near constant contact with city staff via email in the past several months, sharing concerns that parking overflow from Museum Square will fill an already limited supply of spaces in front of their businesses — leaving little room for their customers to park.
These concerns have not gone unnoticed.
Randy Grant, Scottsdale Planning and Development director, said the city is exploring all of its options now to address any looming parking concerns before the project is built.
“We want to avoid a problem in the first place,” Grant said.
In some ways, this specific debate over parking is indicative of a larger gripe that goes back years.
French Thompson said he’s experienced parking issues in the area for decades.
“What we’re saying is there are more cars and parking needed for these buildings than what city planners or builders want to admit to,” said Thompson, owner of French Designer Jeweler.
For the city, the issue about how to address demand during peak times without creating too many spots that will sit vacant off-season.
“I’m not sure it’s as much a mathematical issue as much as it is a time-of-demand issue,” Grant said. “And certainly, when there is an art walk or some special event, that’s where most of the complaints are generating from…and that’s certainly understandable from a business perspective.”
Grant said addressing that underlying issue is a balancing act.
“The other side of that coin is there’s most shopping centers don’t have enough parking for the day after Thanksgiving,” Grant said.
The city could also look at demand-oriented solutions like a valet service during the Scottsdale Art Walk and other peak times to ferry visitors to popular destinations from existing parking that is further away.
The city could build additional parking downtown as well, Grant said.
Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp floated an idea brought to her by gallery owner Jinger Richardson to build a city-owned parking garage on city land at 1st Avenue between Scottsdale Road and Marshall Way.
The bond package that will go before voters in November also includes $21 million for downtown Scottsdale parking.
The city could also build more parking adjacent to the Scottsdale Stadium to keep baseball traffic from filling up parking in other areas of downtown during the peak tourism season in the spring.
“We’re working with some property owners that are, that are in that immediate area,” Grant said.
One option that is not on the table is parking meters — a veritable bogeyman to some business owners in the area.
Grant said he has heard parking meters brought up as a way to fund increased enforcement but said “nobody’s suggested it seriously.”
In relation to Museum Square itself, the gallery owners are concerned that employees and other service workers at the site will use existing on-street and parking garage space to free up parking spots at Museum Square for guests.
Grant said the property owner will dedicate parking on-site for employees — an argument some gallery owners’ are skeptical of because of the question of how it will be enforced.
That is still an open question and will rely, in some ways, on a good faith effort by the developer.
“With regard to enforcement, it really does need to be a joint effort between the city and the developer moving forward for that to be successful,” Scottsdale City Planner Bryan Cluff said.
The developer has stated a willingness to help in that effort.
“Parking and other important topics will be part of the planning commission and City Council process,” said Jason Rose, who represents the developer.
“Before, during and after we will continue to look for ways for Museum Square to be the outstanding addition to the southern part of Old Town we know it will be,” Rose continued. “And we will continue to work with merchants as we have from day one. In many ways they are our most important partners.”
Grant said the property owner is considering including a parking management plan that would be approved by the city during the Development Review Board process.
“Really it comes down to, how do we get the applicant to take ownership of this?” Grant said. “And so, we’re looking at potential inclusion into the development agreement and potentially using zoning stipulations.”
Grant said the city could stipulate measures through the DRB process to ensure employees park on site, such as signage, operational policies, how parking is monitored and how it will be enforced.
He said the city could also expand existing three-hour parking time limits in the area.
Cluff said the city is also discussing increased enforcement of existing parking time limits in the Arts District.
“Three-hour parking is a reasonable answer to many of the questions, because if you have employees that are parking right in front of the store, unless they go out and move their cars, they are going to get tickets,” Grant said.
City staff is quick to stress that the developer will provide parking that exceeds city requirements for the apartments and condominium portions of the development.
The four residential buildings in the project will provide 470 parking stalls, which exceeds the city requirement of 469, according to the Museum Square Parking Master Plan.
The same is not true for the hotel portion, which will likely include a parking ratio of 0.8 parking spots per room, Cluff said.
The city’s parking requirement for hotels is 1.25 spots per room.
However, Grant said that City zoning ordinance allows property owners to request a decrease in the requirement by submitting a parking master plan to the city for approval.
City staff determined that 0.8 spaces per room was the minimum allowable reduction.
Grant pointed to a trend — also cited in the Museum Square hotel’s parking master plan — indicating that increased use of ride shares like Uber and Lyft by travelers has resulted in a decrease in parking needs for hotels.
“Even with that reduction, 0.8 is still substantially more than what other jurisdictions and other areas in the nation are requiring,” Cluff said.
Not all gallery owners are buying that.
While Thompson said that rideshares may significantly reduce the number of vehicles in the future, that is not the reality he sees today.
“We can’t wait 10 years until that rideshare stuff takes off,” Thompson said. “We can’t be here three or four years with no traffic.”
Still, the city seems convinced.
In a move that will likely meet some opposition from the gallery owners, Grant said the city may consider updating parking requirements in a year or so to lessen the requirement for hotels.
“Currently it’s 1.25 spaces per room and we know that that’s over what they actually will need,” Grant said.