The Rooftop Park That Never Came To Be

Vicissitudes of the Oak City is a series taking a look at past development plans in downtown Raleigh that left behind details we can still see today. The things we plan don’t always turn out the way we thought they would and each story results from some external factor that changed things for the better or worse.

The Blount Street Parking Deck

Blount Street Parking deck, Blount Street side

This is the first in a new series I’m creating called Vicissitudes of the Oak City. Rather than a traditional history lesson, I want to write about past plans for downtown Raleigh that faced a sudden change, for the positive or negative. What I enjoy about these is that we can see evidence of the changes all around us yet we may never even notice them.

For the inaugural post, I want to highlight a detail that we can see on The Edison block, something I’ve been staring at for years.

The development of what has been called The Edison has been going back for almost ten years now. This block, currently consisting of the Skyhouse Apartments and Edison Lofts, had plans for much larger and grander buildings but the great recession of 2008 changed everything.

With permission, I’m posting a rendering of The Edison as it was seen through the eyes of 2007.

2007 Rendering of The Edison, Raleigh NC. JDavis Architects.

2007 Rendering of The Edison, Raleigh NC. JDavis Architects. Click for larger.

With a pair of 40+ story towers and two 20+ story towers, downtown Raleigh in 2007 was certainly exciting for development fans. The towers never came but the parking deck was completed. (shown in between the towers of the rendering above)

While talks of The Edison were taking place, a nearby tower was close to opening. The RBC Plaza, now PNC Plaza, opened in 2008 and the Blount Street parking deck, located on The Edison block, was used as additional parking for the office space in PNC.

If you stare up at the parking deck, the stairwells along Wilmington and Blount Street contain an extra floor.

A floor to nowhere.

You can see it on the Blount Street side, photo above, and the Wilmington Street side, photo below.

The Blount Street Parking Deck

Blount Street Parking deck, Wilmington Street side

The stairwells were built that way for a rooftop park that was never built. As part of the original Edison plans, an “amenity level” was planned for the top of the parking deck allowing patrons from the towers as well as the public to use the open space.

You can see it in this zoomed in, annotated portion of the original Edison rendering.

2007 Rendering of The Edison, Raleigh NC. JDavis Architects.

As mentioned earlier, the great recession changed everything and housing as it is today is not the same as it was before then. This lead the team behind it, as well as all other downtown Raleigh projects, to rethink development.

Could a rooftop park ever be built on top of that parking deck one day? I don’t see why not but there are no plans for that at this time.

I can’t help but think that the deck has potential, sitting there in some unfinished state. Economics may never get us there and with a nearby Dix park planned, green space is probably not hurting for downtown.

I still can’t help but get lost in thinking about something so unique for downtown Raleigh like a rooftop park with skyscraper glass views in almost all directions.

While the Blount Street Parking deck is still accessible to the public today* (7am-7pm) I encourage anyone to take the elevator to the top floor and imagine stepping out to trees, gardens, and people rather than sleeping vehicles baking in the sun.

*According to current plans, once The Edison office tower is open (no outlook at this time), planned for the corner of Wilmington and Martin Streets, the public parking spaces will be allocated to support that tower and the deck will be for private use 24/7.

Downtown Parking Woes

Wake County Parking Deck

Some people love to get into intense debates over a variety of topics. Apple versus PC. Romney versus Obama. State fairgrounds July 4th versus Downtown Raleigh July 4th. You get the idea.

I’m not so big into these but I absolutely LOVE talking about parking. There’s something about moving all those 2,000 pound metal boxes on wheels in and out of an area that I think gets the problem solving juices cooking. Especially when it’s in downtown and people compare it to the suburbs.

I’d like to go over some of the parking issues downtown faces today and what might help improve them. Most of this comes from what I hear talking to visitors and residents and there is an ongoing theme here.

Parking is a lot like transit. The service has to have some basic respects to all the users. Whatever a visitor is coming downtown for, eating, drinking, recreation, the experience can be hindered or enhanced by the accompanied parking experience. It must respect the things that are valuable to us, some of those being comfort, time, money, and safety.

Perception #1: “Parking in downtown is confusing”

Downtown has on-street parking, parking lots, and parking decks. These spaces can be owned by the city, the county, the state, or a private company all with their own enforcement hours and rates. Some take coins and credit cards but no bills. Some take it all. Others take cash only. Some have tellers that you can work with and some have metal boxes with little slots for you to insert your money. Some charge on special event days and others do not.

You see where I’m going with this? I feel that this inconsistency in parking rules and regulations can hurt some visitors’ experience to downtown as it may be a new story each time they arrive.

It is important to note however that the eight city owned decks are very consistent with each other. Except for the special occasion only Performing Arts deck and the required 24-hour enforcement deck under the Marriott, the other six are exactly the same. However, some may not see it that way as I bet only very few Raleighites are aware of the deck ownership situation.

The experience of “going downtown” can be lessened because of this inconsistency. If there was a way to somehow standardize the parking experience and create some kind of consistency between parking in one area and then being able to assume it’s the same elsewhere, the experience would be enhanced. This could include small changes including all decks accepting credit cards and all types of currency or something more controversial like a city-wide set parking price.

An easier experience in this aspect pays respects to downtown visitors’ time as they will know what to expect beforehand. This lowers the “obstacle” that parking in downtown can be when compared to a shopping center in the suburbs.

Perception #2: “Parking in downtown costs too much”

Oh I love this one. You’ll occasionally meet those that view a parking fee as just another tax. The reality is that the commodity of parking lots in downtown and decks cost money and to use that commodity, Joe Consumer must pay the fee.

Downtown Raleigh has some of the highest property values in the city and to dedicate that space to parking a car for free when demand is high makes little sense. We’ve talked about some examples where the spaces are worth more than the cars that sit in them!

It’s more appropriate to think that a shopping center in the suburbs has zero fees rather than being free. The cost of building and maintaining a parking lot in the suburbs is all calculated down and the owner then puts that cost back into the leases. If the parking lot cost goes up, leases go up, and so do the prices of the goods sold that consumers buy. It’s like a hidden cost that people either forget about or just don’t know exists.

So the theory goes with a downtown where businesses don’t have to pay for parking, the consumers now have a choice. Want to park close to your destination? We have that but it’ll cost you a few dollars. You could choose to ride the bus and pay a little less. Or, if possible, you could ride a bike or walk at no charge. If you believe in this theory, then walking to or riding transit to a shopping center makes little sense because you have to pay the price that the business puts into their products to cover the cost of the parking lot anyway.

Now let’s talk about the parking decks in downtown. The city owns eight parking decks and sets a competitive hourly rate to park in them. With a larger supply like this, the city has leverage to keep rates low among competing decks. We actually have some of the lowest rates in the country according to the 2011 Colliers International Parking Survey. The city also dedicates a large portion, around 75%, toward paying back debt, some of the highest in the country. This is good to hear as we are currently digging ourselves out of a hole because of the down economy.

Based on our city’s size, I say downtown is doing pretty well on the parking cost game. Educating citizens on this may be necessary but the low parking prices in downtown pay respect to our wallets, directly at the teller as well as indirectly through our city taxes.

Perception #3: “There is never enough parking in downtown Raleigh”

I’m a big fan of Wilmington Street. It’s like the little brother to Fayetteville Street. Fayetteville has the view, the large sidewalks, and all the flare but Wilmington Street in downtown is smaller, cozier, and has a different sort of buzz. Those that claim that there are not enough places to park need to get to know Wilmington Street as it is the main parking artery of downtown.

For five blocks, vehicles have access to six parking decks consisting of over 5,000 parking spaces. Add the surface lots and you could push it to 6,000. This is the densest area of parking in the city. The five blocks with parking decks along Wilmington Street have a total area of about 10 acres. Do the math and you get an estimated 500 cars per Wilmington deck acre.

For access into the city core, this is also one of the best places to go to park and walk to your destination. The Fayetteville Street district is the most pedestrian friendly area so getting to a deck quickly and walking is the best option.

Perhaps more people need to realize this and get to know the city’s Parklink program. Keep an eye out for the blue Parklink signs around town and you’ll know you are working with city owned decks or lots. Did you know they have a Guide (pdf) with some great information? I think the included map, shown below, is THE source for parking information in downtown.

City of Raleigh Parklink Parking Map

The city has had success in tweaking the parking situation over the last few years. Better resources on the web are available as well as increased signage on the streets. Over the next few years, the city’s parking program will work to fine tune the prices of deck parking versus on-street parking. This has been delayed because of the debt that needs to be paid and the down economy but it is in the works.

County Parking Decks Opening and Closing

We are getting closer and closer to another day of destruction. Fencing is going up around the parking deck behind the Garland Jones building which is the future site of the new justice center. The new county deck a block down McDowell will open soon and replace the older one.

For what it is, the new county deck is pretty nice. On the ground floor, there is an indoor lobby with city info, mostly maps, of places around downtown. There are also pay stations to make things more convenient.

I had to take a long look at the map that was put up inside the lobby. Here are some things I noticed.

– The new justice center and Clarence E Lightner Safety Center are listed as ‘future’ projects.
– The amphitheatre across from the convention center is listed as ‘planned’.
Green Square is not on the map.

Interpret it as you will but I’m sure this doesn’t mean much really. I just thought it is a little interesting the things they put on these maps when it comes to ‘future’ or ‘planned’ projects.

Raleigh’s LED Conversion

Another point in city manager Russell Allen’s budget that is worth mentioning are the funds for LED lighting to be installed in city owned parking decks. Raleigh is the first of a few cities across the country to do a wide-spread conversion like this so we may become the model for other cities to follow.

The cost savings of running an LED light is immense when converting from the traditional incandescent bulb. They use less energy, last longer, and produce a more natural light. However, I’m curious to know about the initial cost. The operating costs might be low, but it is worth investigating the purchase and installation costs of LED’s versus incandescent lights.

To give you an idea of what we may be seeing in the picture above, one level of the municipal parking deck on Morgan St. has had the LED conversion. It is a great side by side comparison of both technologies.

RBC Deck Update

While we’ve all been watching the crown and spire rise up on RBC Plaza, its parking deck accomplice has been slowly cleaning up. On Blount St., the sidewalk should open up soon as brick and concrete have been laid. There are still more touches needed to the façade but for the most part, we can see what this end will look like. The Wilmington St. side needs a little more work as the façade is still bare and the sidewalk is all clay with a huge hole in one area.

It looks like each side mirrors the other. There is space for one, maybe two retail spaces on each end. This is sandwiched in between the entrance/exit for cars and the stairwell/elevators.

Blount St.

Wilmington St.

Waiting For The L

The parking deck at the corner of McDowell and Davie St. is starting to rise out of the ground. This is also the site of the future ‘The L’, office over retail building, which will hide the deck from the sidewalk.

At this pace, do not expect it any time soon because this deck will be nine stories tall and they are not building it lego-style like RBC’s deck. At least we will all feel safe parking in this slowly built deck.

222 Parking Deck Paint Job

Edit: The RalCon Tumblelog has been discontinued.

I threw up this picture on the RalCon Tumblelog but remembered that recently there was good discussion related to 222 Glenwood. It appears that this is the final paint job of the parking deck and the flat wall along Jones St. is looking a little ‘simple’. We also had discussion about the murals of downtown and this blank wall was mentioned as a good space for another mural.