Parking lots in downtown Minneapolis about to disappear
by Ben Ganje
on Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 at 8:43am.
Throughout the core of downtown Minneapolis there are over 140 surface level parking lots. The lots range in size and scope--recently the city won a grant from the Met Council to look into the benefits of developing these lots as the next frontier to meet the city's goal of attracting 70,000 residents by 2025.
The asphalt is so abundant that a teacher has made a hobby out of snapping photos of the frequently deserted parking lots and posting them on his new blog, "Empty Lots," along with catalogues of other missed opportunities in urban planning.
Now city planners are considering how to transform the lots into the kind of dense, urban development needed to meet the city's aim of doubling the downtown population over the next decade.
A city map shows at least 140 surface parking lots scattered around downtown, from the Metrodome to the Mississippi to Nicollet Mall, where cars aren't even allowed. Many of them offer parking as cheap as $6 a day. Some, including lots owned by the Star Tribune, take up entire blocks. One lot on S. 2nd Street, near the waterfront, takes up two.
Wildflowers and other greenery lining the sidewalk hardly spruce up the drab vista from the Central Library entrance on Nicollet Mall, where visitors see surface parking lots on two sides of the building and two parking ramps nearby. The surface lots are half empty by the end of the workday.
The parking lots multiplied after World War II, when Minneapolis and other American cities pursued policies hostile to urban development.
Many of downtown's buildings were torn down to make way for parking, the Nicollet Hotel was razed two decades ago for one of the parking lots next to the library.
And as Minneapolis struggled to compete with the suburbs that were stealing its population, the city also began requiring parking minimums in 1963 for new development.
The city since has taken some steps to tame the spread of parking lots. In 1999, Minneapolis barred new commercial parking lots downtown. In 2009, it eliminated minimum parking requirements for buildings in the downtown zoning district.
Several managers of downtown lots say the business actually isn't so lucrative -- and the whole point is to wait for a developer to come along with an attractive offer.
Some anticipate that the planned Vikings stadium will spark new construction on the lots to better connect the Downtown East area with the more vibrant areas to the west. At least a dozen square blocks with substantial surface parking, including Star Tribune-owned property, sit near the stadium.
In Minneapolis and around the country, he said, land values downtown are increasing as more people move in.
Part of the problem is that it is far cheaper to build parking on the ground.
A 2003 report by Transit for Livable Communities titled "The Myth of Free Parking" citing Minneapolis planners said one surface parking unit costs $3,000, an above-ground parking garage space costs $15,000 and an underground parking unit costs $27,000.
The study noted that free or abundant parking discourages people from carpooling and using public transit.
Today, the rate of commuting to work using public transit is 15 percent in Minneapolis, ahead of Portland, Atlanta and Los Angeles, but behind Seattle, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, according to a census survey.
The city wants more people using public transportation, however, and has high hopes for the area around the Metrodome/Downtown East light-rail station.
The city's master plan for Downtown East and the North Loop calls for a so-called "complete community" at the light-rail station, promoting the reduction of car dependency and restoring a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of houses, offices, shops and parks.
The grant will pay for the city to hire a consultant to examine alternate tax structures -- parking lots are currently taxed at a more favorable rate than built-up property -- and come up with a list of development strategies for a report due out in 2013. The consultant will also study how other cities around the country have addressed surface parking.