A few days after the Museum Plaza project was officially and unequivocally cancelled and another historic building was bulldozed in order to make way for, at least in the near to medium term, a parking lot, it seems that the city’s leaders need a reminder that we should be focused less on megaprojects which often call for such demolition, and more on filling in downtown’s horrifically pockmarked landscape.
I had some extra time on my hands over the last week, so I took the liberty to mark all of the dedicated-use parking available in downtown Louisville. On the map above, red shapes mark ordinary surface parking lots. Purple shapes mark structures whose sole use is a parking garage—no ground floor retail or office space above. A conservative estimate shows that (probably) at least a third of Louisville’s downtown surface area is occupied solely by parking. (Compare this with Washington, D.C., whose Central Business District has virtually no surface parking) Keep in mind, this doesn’t even include below-grade parking garages which might have something above them, like most of the major office buildings, or some of the parking garages which have retail or offices or something on the first few floors and parking above. When are the developers going to start looking to build on all of this underused, culturally worthless space and leave what little historic fabric there is left alone?
In July, the Bloomberg Foundation announced that Louisville would receive a $4.8 million grant to study and improve the efficiency of public works and services. While we work to wring blood from a turnip across the vast array of public and human services, the picture above is nothing more that a glaring indication of inefficiency. Most of these parking lots and garages are privately owned. However, the Parking Authority of River City controls more than 11,000 off-street spaces in downtown—enough for nearly a 6th of the downtown workforce to have their own parking space. The spaces generate some revenue, no doubt, but almost undoubtedly not enough to cover the operating and maintenance costs of this mostly structured parking. Meanwhile, the red parcels generate virtually no property tax revenue for the city at the same time that they blight the community and create unattractive and inhospitable human environments throughout most of downtown. Mayor Fischer should devote some of his new innovation team toward addressing the economic and transportation factors which make it easy or advantageous for property owners to leave undeveloped land as underused and ugly parking lots and the zoning factors which likely make it more difficult for owners to develop their land into more productive and attractive uses.