News of Historic Downtown Plano transforming into the city’s arts district has spread throughout the Dallas area, leading business owners and residents to take note of the added volume of visitors. Concern over the need for additional parking in the area has been a topic of discussion among downtown merchants and residents as the area continues to see art gallery openings and special events at places like the newly remodeled McCall Plaza.
Other new projects coming online downtown, including residential communities, a mixed-use development at K Avenue and 14th Street, and long-term plans to add a second rail station have also raised questions as to whether downtown Plano should make plans for creating additional parking areas.
Cities like Carrollton and McKinney have experienced similar challenges as those historic downtown areas grew in scope and popularity, said Peter Braster, director of special projects for the city of Plano. More times than not, parking availability in these areas leads to mixed parking perceptions, he said.
In Plano, parking is perceived to be full when it is only about 80 to 90 percent full, Braster said. The challenge, he said, is making sure visitors know where they can park.
“One of the challenges for cities is to make sure that as people arrive, they know where they can park and that there is no guessing,” Braster said. “When you pull into a lot, you know it’s safe to park there.”
The city of Plano hired Walker Parking Consultants to conduct a parking study, which was completed in February. The goal of the $60,000 study was to help create a balance in parking availability and increase safety while assessing future parking needs and improving the efficiency of the existing parking system.
The study found underused parking lots a block away from 15th Street. The study encouraged better signage as well as increased use of on-street parking to reduce the need for future lots. The study also emphasized the importance of public transportation and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit rail line to reduce the dependence on cars while increasing walking and biking mobility.
Approximately 75 parking spaces were lost when Municipal Center South was demolished in March to make room for two five-story mixed-use buildings. Although some local merchants contend that this project has affected retailers, Braster said the lot was primarily used by city employees during the week.
An estimated 125 parking spaces will be created when the mixed-use project by Southern Land Co. is complete in March 2018.
City planning officials have indicated areas south of 14th Street most likely will be transformed by repurposing existing buildings into other uses, such as restaurants, bars, wineries and artist studios, according to the study. These additions would increase parking demand by 30 percent over the next 10 years, according to the study.
“The downtown area land development strategy encourages the adaptive reuse of existing buildings by minimizing the required parking of repurposed buildings, utilizes the shared pool of parking across the entire downtown area to meet future parking needs, and encourages the use of on-street parking to reduce the need for parking lots,” the study stated.
The completion of DART’s future Cotton Belt Line at 12th Street would also add to downtown Plano’s footprint toward the south. About a year ago, the city spent approximately $900,000 for vacant land off K Avenue to use as a future DART Cotton Belt rail station. The station would be located about a half-mile from the station located off 15th Street.
The Cotton Belt Line will eventually connect DART’s Red Line to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport through Collin and northwest Dallas counties. DART is still working to finance the project, which is part of its 2030 Transit System Plan.
As it stands, public parking is available in the parking garages at the lower and upper East Side Village apartments. Fifty additional parking spaces will also be added along J Avenue between 12th and 14th streets this year, Engineering Director Caleb Thornhill said. Construction is expected to start in June and will be complete in early fall.
“It’s urban and that’s the mindset that’s coming and the gears that are shifting.”
—Michael Hamilton, LaFoofaraw co-owner
A mindset change
City staff and the Historic Downtown Plano Association are working to create a better wayfinding system for visitors using blue signs that indicate where free public parking is available. There is also a mindset change that must take place as downtown Plano continues to grow, Braster said. With prime parking along 15th Street, most visitors prefer on-street parking over lot parking a block or two away.
The city is encouraging business owners and employees to keep 15th Street parking open to shoppers.
LaFoofaraw co-owner Michael Hamilton has operated the downtown Plano boutique off 15th Street for about six years. He said although area construction and expansion may not be the most pleasant aspect of downtown business at the moment, it is an indication of exciting things to come for local business owners.
“We have to grow and we need the growth,” Hamilton said. “There’s going to be the Negative Nellies … but if you have a cool enough space or something that people want, they will get here, and people are getting here. Now, can they [finish construction] any faster? Of course—the faster the better.”
Although Hamilton lost his daily parking space due to the demolition of Municipal Center South, Hamilton said he is not complaining. Living a block away from LaFoofaraw, he now walks to work every day.
“It’s urban and that’s the mindset that’s coming and the gears that are shifting,” Hamilton said. “We’re happy, it’s progress.”
Restaurants, such as Urban Rio, have tried incorporating valet parking in the past but were forced to scale back due to cost, said Rachel Lee, event manager for Rooftop Event Spot in downtown Plano. Located in the same building as Urban Rio off 14th Street, the venue still offers valet services with their event packages, Lee said. Valet parking is something Lee hopes to see more of in downtown Plano to help offset parking problems on the weekend.
“We all know that downtown is only growing, which is fantastic. More people are finding out about our area,” Lee said. “With that though, parking has to increase in some way, shape or form. Valet is not cheap by any means … but it’s an effort we’re making to at least help where we can.”
Although downtown merchants may vary in opinion as to the amount of parking needed, each seems to agree the need for parking will grow as downtown Plano continues to develop and gain attraction, said Alex Hargis, executive director for the Historic Downtown Plano Association. The association plans to meet with private parking lot owners to discuss the possibility of using these areas for public parking during the week and is working with city staff to create up-to-date maps and parking information.
“Some [business owners] are very concerned with there being a lack of perceived parking and others understand that … this is part of the growing pains,” he said. “It’s all about communication. There’s definitely parking there, we just need to do a better job of telling people where it’s at.”