More companies — large and small — have made downtown their home, bringing thousands of new employees to the area. Upscale housing has been constructed, streets have been repaired and once-abandoned buildings have been remodeled.
At the same time, people throughout the metro make frequent treks to shop, eat and recreate in Bricktown and other parts of downtown.
Yet, with growth comes growing pains. At the top of the list is parking — or the lack thereof.
“It’s a significant problem, and it’s been there quite some time,” said Rick Cain, director of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA), which operates several downtown public parking garages and lots.
Simply put, the demand for parking outweighs the supply.
“Right now, we are at an occupancy rate of 111 percent,” Cain said.
He said the parking pain was heightened when Continental Resources and Enogex, a subsidiary of OGE Energy Corp., relocated to downtown. Parking spaces once used by Devon Energy employees were quickly claimed by workers from Continental and Enogex.
Compounding the issue is the number of firms that moved downtown because of their business relationships with Devon Energy Corp., SandRidge Energy Inc. and other energy companies.
Some relief is in sight, however. A new 830-space parking garage will be built at 431 W. Main, south of City Hall. The $21.2 million facility will be financed through a revenue bond not to exceed $25 million, according to a resolution approved March 5 by the Oklahoma City Council.
Cain told the council that construction will begin as soon as the bonds are sold, with a completion date for next spring.
The garage will incorporate about 25,000 square feet of retail space on the first level and could include a restaurant, coffee shop, offices and possibly a fitness center for city employees, said Cathy O’Connor, president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.
The parking facility also has been designed to allow for 80,000 square feet of housing and office space on the top three floors. Those two components would be added at a later time, said OKC spokeswoman Kristy Yager.
A good problem
City leaders realize the new facility won’t solve downtown’s parking dilemma. A study conducted last year shows 2,000 additional spaces are needed for the downtown market.
“We can’t act fast enough to build a garage,” Cain said. “The challenge is where ... we put a new parking garage since there’s not much vacant land in the area.”
Another possible solution centers on parking at remote locations around the area with visitors and workers being shuttled to their respective destinations. Cain said the idea was floated at a recent parking summit.
“Universally, everyone said, ‘OK, that makes sense,’ but then people would say, ‘It doesn’t work for me.’ Having a more robust transit system would help where people just jump on a bus or streetcar and go. It would be an educational process for the public.”
Meanwhile, private-sector efforts are under way to build parking garages in Bricktown, east of the railroad tracks, and possibly along Walker Avenue between N.W. Fourth and N.W. Fifth streets.
“Building one in Bricktown would be preferred,” Cain said. “Being in the low 90s for an occupancy rate would be good, but we’ll probably be in the high 90s depending how big of a garage is built on that Bricktown site.”
Still, O’Connor said she is delighted that lack of parking has become an issue.
“Parking problems are not necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “There are growing pains with construction in general. The end result is fabulous. Our goal has been to create a world-class downtown that would attract more businesses and people. We needed it (downtown) to be something again.”
Lack of on-street parking has long been an issue for visitors to downtown. That problem was remedied, in part, by Project 180, which allowed for the conversion of one-way streets to two-way thoroughfares and the development of pedestrian corridors and reconstruction of old sidewalks.
“Project 180 gave us an additional 600 on-street parking spaces,” O’Connor said.
Those new on-street spaces, however, won’t always take visitors to their destination’s front door.
“It becomes an issue of how far ... you want to walk,” Cain said.
Public parking garages
Century Center (100 W. Main): 805 spaces; $99.71 a month; $5 per event. Services Chesapeake Energy Arena, Cox Convention Center, Myriad Botanical Gardens, Sheraton Hotel, Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center Hotel by Marriott, Mid-America Tower, Colcord Hotel and Internal Revenue Service. Hourly rate is $2 for first hour and $1 for every additional hour.
Cox Convention Center (Robinson Avenue and E.K. Gaylord): 947 spaces; $97.54 a month; $6 per event. Services Cox Convention Center, Myriad Botanical Gardens, Sheraton Hotel, Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center Hotel by Marriott, Mid-America Tower and Century Center Mall. No hourly rate.
Santa Fe (Robert S. Kerr and E.K. Gaylord): 1,518 spaces; $94.29 a month; $5 per event; $7 a day. Services Chase Tower, Skirvin Hilton Hotel, Devon tower, BancFirst, First National Center, Main Street Plaza, Bank of Oklahoma Plaza, 101 Park Avenue building and Bricktown. Hourly rate is $2 for first hour and $1 for every additional hour.
Sheridan/Walker (501 W. Sheridan): 1,116 spaces; $79.11 a month; $5 per event; $7 daily. Services Union Bus Station, City Hall, Stage Center, Civic Center Music Hall and City of Oklahoma City offices. Hourly rate is $2 for first hour and $1 every additional hour.
—Source: Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority