New direction on performance space could cause parking crunch

rpulley@lsjournal.comMay 23, 2014 

A decision to raze Arnold Hall and its associated parking to build a festival space in downtown Lee’s Summit could create a parking shortage.

The proposal by council members Allan Gray and Dave Mosby for enlarging the outdoor performance space beyond the Lee’s Summit Arts Council recommendation would eliminate 65 parking spaces.

It would jump the block around 123 Third Street to exceeding city standards for occupancy of parking spaces. It also could be a drag on leasing existing retail space around Third and Douglas streets.

“Anything that would take away all of (the parking) is something that should be given a lot of thought,” said Michael Van Buskirk. “We need to preserve what we’ve got and add more.”

Van Buskirk, director of investment services for Zimmer Real Estate Services, said he supports a downtown performance space, which would bring people to downtown. Van Buskirk manages properties in the Hartley Block redevelopment at Third and Douglas for its owner.

He said the new idea could be a problem because it costs many more spaces than the earlier concept.

Parking availability and the city’s two-hour limit on street parking “have been an issue with some of the (potential) tenants that looked,” Van Buskirk said. Other parking lots are too full or too distant to fill the need, he said.

Gray did not return calls for comment. Mosby said there are other ways to meet the need, such as a bond issue to build more parking structures.

“It’s my opinion, in the near future, there will be several opportunities to provide parking in downtown,” Mosby said. “The potential for a really nice outdoor entertainment area is something we shouldn’t pass up.”

He said another option is for the city to use tax increment financing to build a parking structure in cooperation with the developer of a proposed apartment complex at Second and Green streets. Another is repairing a partially closed parking structure adjacent just west of Arnold Hall.

Trisha Drape, executive director of Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street Inc., said the group’s board has not yet taken a position on the proposal. She said it is waiting on detailed information. Drape said several issues need to be considered as the council plans the event space.

The loss of parking will make marketing vacancies at Third and Douglas more difficult, she said.

A usable venue for the performance space also needs to have lighting for spectators and should be a priority.

“You can’t use it at night if you don’t have lighting,” she said. That’s currently an alternate for the proposed budget. Increasing the size of the space is likely to add more costs making it less likely the city can afford the alternates.

A third concern, she said, specifically affecting DLSMS, is that if the festival space is built at 123 Third Street the group will need a new location for carnival rides.

About half of the spaces in the Arnold Hall lot are in use daily, many for employees of businesses and for patrons of Neighbor’s Cafe and other businesses, said Michael Park, city traffic engineer in an interview.

When the city approved The Stanley on Douglas Street, parking at 123 Third Street was to serve as parking for its retail spaces yet to be leased.

Also, there are vacancies in the Hartley redevelopment at Third and Douglas on the same block as Arnold Hall, also expected to serve those customers.

Park said he hasn’t yet been asked to make a formal evaluation of the impact of expanding the festival space. But from previous work he knows eliminating parking at 123 Third would have an impact.

“It could put tremendous pressure on parking for businesses downtown,” Park said.

A possible outlet would be the City Hall parking garage, at Second and Green streets, where there are about 140 spaces available beyond city employee needs.

It could easily serve the performance space since the typical times for entertainment events would be after business hours.

Commerce is a different story.

In downtown, open parking spaces in other blocks can be scarce at peak times, at least close to storefronts.

Between Green and Market and between Fourth and Second streets “... all the other lots area really well used,” Park said.

Park said a contemporary trend is for communities to encourage development that promotes physical activity, so the council might want to revisit the policy of about a 75-percent occupancy rate for parking spaces downtown.

“I’m a big advocate for walking and biking,” Park said. “We all need to be more active, myself included. Health consciousness is a growing trend, I believe.”

A previous council, based on parking studies, set a policy of trying to have a 25-percent vacancy rate for parking spaces. Park said that’s based on a blend of industry recommendations of 10-percent open parking spaces and 35 percent for retail, to reflect the mix of downtown businesses. Going beyond that, Park said, people can think that parking is too inconvenient and avoid the area.

Tony Olson, a co-owner of Neighborhood Cafe across from 123 Third Street said he’d love to see the performance space, but not at the cost of all the parking. He said having adequate parking for downtown businesses is crucial for competition with strip centers where people can park just outside the store.

“We’d love the traffic, but parking is becoming a bigger issue downtown as there area more businesses,” Olson said.

He said his customers won’t choose to use the city parking garage, although his employees will park there.

“It’s absolutely too far, we’ve seen it time and time again,” Olson said.

Councilman Rob Binney raised the parking issue when the council voted to get estimates for tearing down Arnold Hall and removing all the existing asphalt.

Binney, in an interview, said he’s gotten calls from several business owners worried about the loss of the parking.

“The performance space is meant to encourage economic activity,” Binney said. “But if we don’t consider that when taking out parking, it could be to our detriment.”

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