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City Beautiful 21 » Auto Traffic, Carrboro, Economic Development, Libraries, Parking, Pricing, Public Comment Opportunity, Tourism, Walking » Development at 203 S Greensboro Needs Less Parking, More Startup Space to Complement Library

Development at 203 S Greensboro Needs Less Parking, More Startup Space to Complement Library

On September 19, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will be discussing a proposal to redevelop 203 S. Greensboro St into the Southern Orange County library and several other public uses for Town of Carrboro departments.The current plan significantly over-provides parking and under-supplies useful commercial space in a downtown whose own recent parking study found that there are over 1,280 unused parking spaces in downtown Carrboro (click here, see page 9 of PDF) at virtually all times of day, 365 days a year.

Before moving forward with this plan, the Board of Aldermen should modify the project as follows:

  1. Reduce the overall parking program to 150 spaces, using only the below ground and 1st levels for parking.
  2. Add a minimum of 8,400 square feet to the project on the upper floors that would be leased to private, taxpaying uses
  3. Explore if building more sq footage brings cost per square foot down, especially if building full, flat floors across floors three and four
  4. Pursue a partnership with American Underground to fill some of the space with startups, and/or use a commercial broker to lease the space
  5. Allocate the 150 parking spaces as follows:
    1. 20 spaces for use by Town (all departments combined)
    2. 130 public spaces (can be used by library patrons, artscenter, town workers, etc as long as they follow parking rules)
  6. Price the parking in the deck to keep 15% of public spaces free at all times, adjusting the price by time of day according to demand. If the deck can have 15% of spaces free without charging at some time of day, parking should be free in that time period.


Why The Aldermen Should Take These Steps

Let’s unpack these moves one by one.

1. Reduce parking to 150 spaces. Here’s the ground floor of the proposed building. South Greensboro Street is to the left, Open Eye Cafe is be directly above the building.  The ground floor of our new signature Town building would be a 14,000-odd square foot library and 19,000 or so square feet of parking. As you go up, the pattern remains this way- about 33,000 sq feet of development of which 58% is parking and 42% is everything else. The below ground floor is 80% parking. This is just too much. If you look at the total program proposed, it comes out to 5.4 spaces per 1000 gross square feet (GSF) of building. To put this in perspective, malls and big box stores generally provide 4 spaces per 1000 GSF.  After the administration in Washington signaled its intent to pull out of the Paris Climate accords, Carrboro put green lights up on Town Hall to signal its commitment to climate action. If we are going to build more parking for our public buildings than Southpoint Mall builds for its shoppers, then I would suggest we take those green lights down and stop pretending we’re committed to fighting climate change. A lot of communities don’t even have parking requirements downtown anymore (i.e. Durham) because they are working to help people use more sustainable travel modes by not subsidizing auto usage.

14,390 ft of Library, 19,000 feet of parking!

14,390 ft of Library, 19,000 feet of parking!


2. If we took out two levels of the parking deck, according to the cost per square foot and cost per space of parking for the Town in the June 20th presentation, we could add 8,400 square feet of space and pay the same amount to build the building as if we built 55,000 square feet and two more levels of parking. However, we would have more space to lease that would hopefully bring a return on investment to the Town over the years.

3. The cost of this building is projected at $250 per square foot. I am not sure if this is high, but the irregular shape of each floor to wrap around the parking deck may be driving the cost up. The Board should seek advice from Jim Spencer, the architect, on whether having more conventional floor plates on the third and fourth floor in lieu of parking would bring the overall cost per square foot down. If so, then the Town could consider even more square footage that could be rented to the private sector.

4. Pursue a partnership with American Underground. For those who don’t know, American Underground is the wildly successful startup incubator in the basement of the American Tobacco Campus in Durham which has since expanded to two more buildings in Durham and one location in Raleigh. Now that Carrboro has direct bus connections to Durham with stop one block from 203 S Greensboro and one block from American Underground(AU), it’s a great time to leverage a lot of the common cultural affinity between Carrboro and Durham and see if AU is interested in establishing a “Western Outpost” for their ecosystem in Carrboro. We may be able to offer less costly expansion than the increasingly expensive office space market in Downtown Durham, while still offering many of the amenities that both downtowns share.

5. Allocate the 150 spaces as follows: 10 for town employees, 140 public spaces. The current proposal has 30 spaces for Parks and Rec. If the Town wants to get businesses in downtown Carrboro to get their employees to stop using up public parking that visitors and customers could use, they should lead by example. Last year, a delegation from Chapel Hill and Carrboro visited a very successful mixed use project in Boulder, Colorado that had multiple users using one parking garage called Boulder Junction.

Boulder Junction, Boulder, CO

Boulder Junction, Boulder, CO

Boulder Junction’s parking operates on four principles: it is shared, managed, unbundled, and paid. “Shared” means that any person can use any space; there’s no “parking for XYZ business only” signage. “Managed” means that there is a strategy for how the parking is to be used, and an entity providing policy and enforcement to ensure the strategy is carried out. (in this case, the city of Boulder) “Unbundled” means that if you rent space in the building, you are not automatically allocated a parking space- you must also rent spaces individually as well, whether you rent by the hour, day, week, or month.  Finally, “paid” is relatively obvious. While the Carrboro Parking Study’s chief failure is no mention of the word pricing, the Town actually went ahead and priced the Rosemary Street lot by Carrburritos and Bowbarr recently, so we’ve crossed the Rubicon and now charge for parking in Carrboro. So let’s do it right. Let’s start where we are as a Town, and implement a system that lets the first 2 hours (or 3! or 4! or whatever we decide!) be free, and only thereafter charges the user. This system is deployed in the North Deck at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, and people can pay using the Parkmobile app. It’s convenient, promotes turnover, prevents park and ride in inappropriate places, and allows for parking to be free as long as it makes sense.

Taking these four principles, a purist approach would put all 150 spaces into this system. But the Town has storage for some departments in the basement, and there are probably some needs for moving equipment in and out of the building for key events that should have those spaces reserved for town staff. But ten spaces should be enough.

Beyond those ten spaces, the Town should be encouraging downtown employees to park on fringe lots and either walking, biking, or busing to the core sites downtown (203 S Greensboro and the Century Center).

On page 20 of the parking study, you can see that VHB documented 151 cars parking for over 7 hours in our “2-hour stay” public lots. VHB estimates that 50 to 60 of these are town employees, and another 90 to 95 belonged to other downtown employees or UNC students stealth park-and-riding to campus.

I’m sure town employees who currently enjoying parking downtown may be disappointed with this recommendation. But hopefully they recognize that if they can park a little further away, they can support vitality for downtown businesses, and get a few more steps in to finish their commutes, or snag a CHT bus from a lot a little further away.

6. Price the deck for 85% occupancy. This is considered a best practice in the parking industry. If you set the price so that 15% of spaces are empty, then you can pretty much guarantee that with people coming and going, you will ALWAYS find a space at your destination. No more circling and hunting for a space. If demand for spaces is such that 15% of spaces are empty even if the price is free, then that’s what you charge – $0. Based on the Carrboro Parking Survey, it appears weekday lunch hours represent the greatest crunch given our current conditions. In this case, the parking at 203 S Greensboro might have a charge at lunchtime, but not earlier or later in the day. We’d have to set up the system and see. That said, once the system is up and running, businesses could opt in, just as they did in Asheville.

If you take these steps together, and only add the 8,400 square feet while reducing to 150 spaces, you still get a parking ratio of 2.4 spaces per 1000 square feet, which is higher than many downtowns like Carrboro require today. That’s a reasonable outcome to transition downtown away from auto dependence and towards greater economic vitality, while also delivering needed Town office space and the library everyone wants to see happen.

It’s time to do parking pricing right, on the Town’s terms, in a strategic way that balances our goals and puts us on a path to unlock the 1,280 spaces that are tied up in 140+ individual lots, while raising money for alternative modes. This worthy project is the place to start that new effort.

If you agree, please let the board know by emailing

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Filed under: Auto Traffic, Carrboro, Economic Development, Libraries, Parking, Pricing, Public Comment Opportunity, Tourism, Walking

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