Once upon a time, malls, grocery-anchored community centers and other retail properties were situated in the suburbs, where land was plentiful for parking needs. In those centers, customers could park directly in front of their destinations, generally, for free. However, as retailers continue staking claims in densely-populated areas and urban cores, parking is becoming a challenge. Retail locations in central business districts can require visitors and customers to park on the street (which can sometimes be difficult, especially during peak shopping times), or in a remote lot.
Then there is the parking structure, better known as the parking garage. According to a recent report released by Transwestern’s Nick Hernandez entitled “Park Smart: Engineered Solutions Answer Retail Parking Challenges,” those garages are evolving to accommodate the needs of urban shoppers. Hernandez noted that garages can include “reception areas, parking assistance technology and services designed to remove the perceived drudgery of searching dark corners for a free space.”
Some parking structures offer valet parking, as well as designated areas, where shoppers can wait for taxis or ride-share services. Others offer automotive services, such as detailing or electrical vehicle charting. One parking structure, at the mixed-use River Oaks District in Houston, features automated displays mounted on a spiral ramp indicating which floors have available spaces. LED lights mark open slots, showing green for available, blue for handicapped spaces and red for occupied. Sensors also collect data concerning lengths of stay, occupancy and usage, as well. Additionally, modern garages are offering better lighting than their older counterparts, along with monitored cameras to help increase security.
What about the idea that, with ride-sharing and other modes of transportation, parking garages could become obsolete? Hernandez agreed that, between ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, parking requirements will likely change, over time. “With that in mind,” he wrote, “forward-thinking developers are adjusting the design of new parking structures to be more easily converted to other uses when the time comes.”
Such designs would focus on level floors, rather than graded parking decks, which would require less work to finish as office or retail spaces. Architects can also design a parking building shell for future window placement, as well as integrating open shafts in the interior, that could support ductwork and wiring. Ceiling heights that are more in line with standard offices and stores can both simplify adaptive reuse, while providing greater visibility and natural light penetration.
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