College Park garage opening up new interest
Officials cite increased spring revenue, arrival of retail tenant for greater use
Despite a slow start in its first several months of existence, College Park officials say the city's $9.3 million parking garage has begun to pay dividends and will now be further boosted by a new ground-floor retail tenant at the facility.
The five-story, 288-space facility located on Knox Road near Route 1 opened with considerable fanfare in July 2009. Officials predicted it would make the parking-starved downtown district more convenient for visitors, potentially improving business and even attracting new businesses to the area, where several shops have closed in the past year.
The garage performed below expectations through January, as early revenue was typically about $4,000 or $5,000 a month, said city finance director Stephen Groh. However, with advertising and word of mouth, its use nearly doubled last spring to about $8,000 a month from February to May, which Groh said surpassed city projections.
Groh said its performance could further improve this fall, with former Adelphi staple Ledo Restaurant scheduled to open on the garage's ground floor in mid- to late-August.
"Maybe people are getting used to it," Groh said. "I think there was a sort of an intimidation factor [with a new, unfamiliar building], and people didn't know it was there."
City officials attributed the slow sales to a lack of word of mouth and the possibility that some motorists didn't know the garage fare was equal to the citywide rate of 75 cents an hour, suspecting the city might charge more for enclosed, covered parking.
Officials at one point suggested raising parking prices elsewhere in the city from 75 cents to $1 per hour to draw more vehicles to the garage, but now believe the facility can stand on its own. The garage was often at more than 30 percent of its capacity during the spring semester, said City Manager Joe Nagro, a figure that exceeded most expectations.
"I don't think we ever projected it would be 100 percent full, 100 percent of the time," Nagro said, adding the garage was more than half-full during busier evening and weekend periods. "With the retail opening in the next three weeks and school coming, I would expect to see even a bigger increase."
The garage took in nearly $100,000 in revenue last fiscal year $70,000 from pay stations and nearly $29,000 in monthly permits sold to local employees and students. The city hopes to bring in $114,000 this year, which Groh called a conservative projection, with $52,000 from pay stations and $62,000 from permits. Groh said the city has not estimated how long it could take for the garage to pay for itself.
"Anything that makes it more convenient for people to park here ... is beneficial," R.J. Bentley's owner John Brown said in July. "Clearly, parking has been a significant issue for College Park for many, many years."
While officials say the facility could bolster local shops and restaurants, City Councilman Robert Catlin (Dist. 2) said it could also attract new housing development to the area, such as the recently announced high-rise that developers plan to build at the site of the Maryland Book Exchange, located at Route 1 and College Avenue, two blocks north of the garage.
"The parking garage is really built to facilitate development of existing properties," Catlin said. "It would save [developers] a considerable amount of money if they don't have to put in a level of underground parking."