A community news source for residents of the HarriOak neighborhood in Oakland, CA.

Monday, May 4, 2009

No Need for An Uptown Parking Lot

This commentary was originally published by the Oakland Tribune. It is reprinted with permission from its author.

My Word: No need for 'interim' parking lot in Uptown Oakland
By Shannon Bowman

AMID A staggering budget deficit, stalled development projects, and a mayoral administration perceived as inept, the Uptown area serves as a beacon of pride for Oakland. Three upscale bars have opened in the past month just on the stretch of Telegraph Avenue between 17th-20th Streets. Flora restaurant and Luca's are packed nightly and shine as symbols of the burgeoning restaurant and night life scenes in Uptown.

The Uptown renaissance is occurring despite a huge blemish in the heart of the district — a one-acre mud pit surrounded by an eight-foot chain link fence on the prominent corner of Telegraph and 19th. The future use of this site — flanked by the dazzling Fox Theatre and the handsome Uptown apartments, and located across the street from the art-deco landmark building housing Flora — is pivotal to the continued transformation of Uptown into a vibrant walkable district.

A residential tower has been approved for this lot; but the developer, Forest City, does not anticipate commencing construction for at least three years due to current market conditions.

Some City Council members are advocating for a 120-space interim surface parking lot on the site for Fox concertgoers, despite the thousands of street and parking lot spaces located within blocks of the venue. The 482-space Franklin Plaza Garage, which closes at 7 p.m., could stay open later during Fox events if necessary.

Council members are hearkening back to the 1970s automobile-oriented city planning model, rooted in the belief that drivers should never suffer the indignity of walking more than a few feet from their car door to the front entrance of the final destination.

The parking lot proposal ignores the larger picture. While maximizing parking for the Fox might sell a few more tickets, a surface parking lot consuming an entire city block on Telegraph will jeopardize the revival of the entire district. A one-acre mass of asphalt and sea of cars will deter pedestrians contemplating a stroll up Telegraph to explore the new restaurants, bars and shops.

Shoppers prefer an uninterrupted flow of attractive storefronts and inviting open spaces.

For these reasons, these same City Council members gave Forest City a $60 million subsidy four years ago to eliminate the old surface parking lot at this very site. The previous parking lot was discouraging economic development and investment in Uptown.

Why should we care so much about a temporary parking lot? Because "interim" parking lots often remain for years or decades, depending upon market conditions and developers' whims. The new Cathedral Christ of Light, for example, was built on the site of an "interim" parking lot that remained for more than 40 years.

An alternate proposal for this site is a recreational use, such as a miniature golf course. The city should put out a request for proposals to find recreational operators who could make a profit within three years if the site is leased to them rent-free.

Given that parking revenue over three years is unlikely to exceed the $450,000 cost to build the parking lot, the city will not forego potential revenue by leasing this land to a recreational operator for free. If no reputable operators respond, then the city can reconsider the parking lot.

Another alternate proposal is to lay sod, add lighting, and convert the vacant lot into a no-frills open space and community garden for the public. In an admission that this option is feasible, City Council members Pat Kernighan and Jane Brunner have each stated their opposition to a public open space on the site because the public will grow to like it and "never let it be taken away" to accommodate the condo project slated to be built in three years. This would hardly be a nightmare scenario.

If a piece of urban open space becomes popular and well-used, our downtown would be enhanced. And because this parcel is 1.2 acres, a decent urban designer could easily lay out a site plan that includes Forest City's residential tower while preserving a significant portion of the open space.

Over the next three years or longer, a fun recreational use at this site will promote the pedestrian-friendly arts and entertainment corridor that is shaping up on this stretch of Telegraph. A surface parking lot will stymie this progress. City Council members: let's incorporate elements of modern urban design that will promote business activity in Uptown.

To voice your opinion, attend the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. You can also e-mail Friends4VibrantUptown at gmail dot com.

Shannon Bowman is a member of Downtown Lake Merritt Neighborhood Group.

photo courtesy of Flickr/Evan Hamilton

No comments: