I’m all too aware that I’ve been pretty intensely focused on the proposed 51 Biltmore parking deck. I can’t help but see it as the single worst project to cross my desk in 13 months on City Council, and consequently have been working overtime to understand every aspect of the proposal and alert citizens to what appears to be a preventable calamity.
Staff has provided Council with data about two 2010 property transaction “comps” in the downtown area which indicate that comparable property sold for $40 and $66 per square foot, respectively.
The proposed purchase of 51 Biltmore involves approximately 31,620 square feet.
31,620 x $40 = $1,264,800 and 31,620 x $66 = $2,086,920
But our contract with the development company, Public Interest Projects, stipulates a price of $3.11 million, or more than $98 per square foot.
In addition, both of those comparable sales included the air rights to the properties. PIP is selling the air rights to 51 Biltmore separately, for another $1.78 million.
The City has also agreed to purchase the Hot Dog King property and give the frontage on both Biltmore and Lexington Avenues, together with all of the air rights, to PIP. The HDK property is approximately 11,310 square feet, and the City has contracted to pay $1.45 million, or $128 per square foot. But, in reality, we’re only keeping 9,520 square feet (after subtracting the two frontage parcels), so we’re paying over $152 per square foot. That’s 2-1/2 to 3 times the price paid for property in Asheville in the past year.
Altogether we are considering payment of $4.56 million for property with a current market value of $1.7 to $2.7 million—and we don’t even get the air rights.
(Doing my own “comp,” I note that the Asheville Hardware building, in excellent condition and with 14 dedicated parking slots, one block or so south of 51 Biltmore, is being offered for sale for $120 per square foot. A functional commercial structure, not a vacant lot.)
Cost per parking place
Another comparison to be made is the total construction cost per parking space. The most recently completed parking facility in Asheville was built by Buncombe County and completed a little over a year ago. The construction cost was reported to be $17,000 per parking space.
The proposed Biltmore deck is projected to cost $14.8 million in total and will include 412 parking spaces. That comes to almost $36,000 per slot (if one includes the property purchase), or almost $25,000 per slot if one only considers construction. (As a point of comparison, I believe the County already owned its parcel.)
But, the McKibbon Hotel to be constructed atop the deck will be accorded 50-100 spaces (they will use fewer during the day and more at night. I note that in that section of town, the biggest demand seems to occur during Orange Peel and Pack Place events, at night – so hotel and event parkers will compete for space.) In addition, the project is being built on the site of 120 existing parking places (100 at 51 Biltmore and 20 at the Hot Dog King). So the net gain in parking places is actually more like 192, making the cost per additional public space more than $77,000 (or more than $53,000 after subtracting the property cost.)
It appears that the County got a much better bargain on parking.
What about the Downtown Master Plan?
This project should be evaluated with guidance from the Downtown Master Plan, which very specifically recommends use of a circulating shuttle and notes that we have plenty of parking in the Downtown area which is currently under-utilized.
Strategy 2 of the DTMP is to:
Manage access, mobility, circulation, and parking as one interconnected system, coordinated through a collaborative partnership of the City, the County, and private investments.
The plan makes repeated reference to a circulating shuttle system and to the idea that such a system should be a short term goal for the city. One of the biggest problems with the proposed 51 Biltmore deck is that it will suck all the funding out of a potential shuttle system for at least ten years. By dedicating all of our parking/transit money to this overpriced boondoggle, we preclude a solution that can help businesses, workers, shoppers and tourists throughout the city.
Furthermore, rather than increasing the number of parking decks, the DTMP suggests that a long-term goal should be to:
Consider possible redevelopment of public parking structures—particularly the Rankin Street and Wall Street structures—for higher-value uses. Displaced parking could be accommodated through new below-grade parking, shared parking with the new uses, satellite parking, and/or enhanced transit services that reduce parking demand.
So rather than build more decks, the long-debated and carefully considered DTMP actually envisions replacing existing decks with “higher-value” projects.
While the parking study referenced in the DTMP does suggest that parking is tight on weekend nights along the Biltmore Ave. corridor, this proposed deck does far less to address that shortfall than a shuttle system which could deliver patrons of Pack Place and the Orange Peel to the many available parking lots located a few blocks from the city center. If the study is correct in suggesting that there is a demand for 600 or more parking places in that area, then adding a net 192 spaces doesn’t solve the problem, whereas a circulating shuttle would not only address the very local shortfall, but deliver employees, shoppers and tourists to locations and parking throughout the downtown area.