n Public perception is public parking is not available.
n Current turnover — how many different cars utilize a single street space over a time period — is too low at 2.8 cars per day.
n Street space utilization is too high at 98 percent between 11 a.m. and 2 pm.
Ask visitors to the downtown area — whether local or tourist — what the ideal parking would be and I think we know the answer: Everyone wants to park for the lowest cost at the closest space to their destination.
The problem with this, however, is that there are more visitors with cars in downtown Marietta than there are street parking spaces.
Indeed, for long stretches of the morning and mid-afternoon on most business days, the number of cars is greater than the number of street spaces available.
We then witness streets with no available spaces, heavy traffic congestion from cars circling the Square looking for parking, traffic backups as cars wait for parked cars to load and leave a space, and private lot owners fussing at, booting, or towing illegally parked cars. This resulting situation does not make anybody happy and does not make downtown Marietta feel welcoming.
Regardless of who the car owners are — business owners, tourists, court visitors, or government workers — there are more cars than available street spaces.
If you remember back to your high school economics class, you may recall Opportunity Costs: the cost a consumer is willing to pay for a good or service.
The street parking spaces in downtown Marietta have a relatively low cost: there is no financial cost to use them (in effect a governmental Price Control) and there is no walking cost as they are generally curbside to the destination. The only costs I can think of are the cost of finding a space — do you have time to circle the Square looking for a space? — and the potential time and effort cost of later moving a parked car to avoid the two-hour parking citation for longer stays.
As a possible solution to the lack of street parking, there was much talk at the Town Hall meeting of encouraging visitors to use the existing Cobb County parking decks. These parking spaces have their own costs, which are higher than the street spaces.
First, there is a $5 cost for using these spaces during the day. Secondly, these spaces tend to be further away from the businesses around the Square than street parking and thus have a higher walking burden.
Besides these costs, the existing county decks have drawbacks in signage and location. Although not necessarily a great distance from the Square, these decks are not located on main entrances to the Square and have very limited signage. This means that many visitors do not even know the decks exist, and for those who know, their non-central locations and entrances make the decks appear less convenient.
In summary, we have the situation where the most prized, limited street spaces are given away at no cost and the seemingly underutilized parking deck spaces are charged a high cost with increased walking burden. There are many aspects to this challenge that the City can work on to help the situation:
n Increase signage to the existing County parking decks to raise awareness of their existence.
n Work with the County to see if there is a way to lower the financial cost to use the parking decks and thus make them more appealing.
n Build a City-owned parking deck on the Mill Street lot. This location offers tremendous visibility potential for those driving on North/South Marietta Parkway as well as Whitlock Avenue. By being on a major ingress/egress point for the downtown area, it would provide the most appealing proximity for a user and would help keep parking and traffic congestion off the Square during festivals, concerts, and shopping periods.
n Install a parking management system. This may be a fancy way of describing the kiosk parking meters, but the principle is quite simple: Until we balance the supply and demand for the finite number of spaces, the market place will not be satisfied.
I cannot think of another way to increase the cost of these prized spaces and thus make other (e.g. parking deck) spaces look more desirable.
Unfortunately, each of these suggestions carries a cost of its own. The City parking deck option is very costly as industry guidelines encourage budgeting $12,000 to $15,000 per space to build a parking deck. Assuming the City wants a visually appealing parking deck like those in Savannah that look like turn-of-the-century warehouses, it would cost over $1 million just to replace the approximately 80 Mill St. surface spaces now used at the deck site. Add another 80 or 160 spaces to actually increase the number of spaces at this site and the cost quickly approaches the $5 million mark. And a city-owned deck — even if beautiful and well-located — will not gather high usage until it appears to be a lower cost than the street space.
Regardless of what approach the City may consider taking, I encourage it to work with the DMDA and the citizens of Marietta to approach downtown parking proactively. I believe it is time to make our downtown area more accessible and friendly to all visitors.
James Eubanks serves on the board of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority. He is vice president of Wharton Management, Inc., a family-run business managing over 140,000 RSF of commercial rental property, mostly in downtown Marietta.