What’s The Cost of Parking in Downtown Milwaukee?
What’s the cost of parking in downtown Milwaukee? It might just be more than the cost of plugging the meter. The low cost of parking in Milwaukee might actually be preventing new development from happening downtown.
Consider the prices for parking in downtown Milwaukee (thanks to SBT and Colliers International)…
- The median monthly unreserved parking rate in downtown Milwaukee is $120, compared to the national average of $153.79, according to the report.
- The median monthly reserved parking rate in downtown Milwaukee is $150, compared to the national average of $185.78.
- The median daily parking rate in downtown Milwaukee is $12, compared to the national average of $15.42.
- The median hourly parking rate in downtown Milwaukee is $4, compared to the national average of $5.10.
- The median metered hourly parking rate in downtown Milwaukee is 63 cents, compared to the national average of $1.48. (emphasis ours)
At a glance, the most drastic difference from the national average comes in the form of Milwaukee’s parking meters. The difference is so great that in downtown Milwaukee people are paying 50% less for metered parking than the national average.
A now dated study from HNTB indicated that the city had an adequate supply of parking in 1998, but was short on metered parking. By 1999, the city had increased the number of parking stalls by 1,525 during John Norquist‘s term alone. More have been added since, helping to lead to what today is believed by many to be an oversupply.
There is by this author’s pound-the-pavement, visual survey a disproportionately high number of surface parking lots in downtown Milwaukee compared to many other major cities. To make matters worse, there is a great number of free street parking spaces just north of the MSOE campus that are filled daily. These are problem areas for a variety of reasons.
This oversupply is bad for development downtown because building a parking structure is often required to obtain financing for a new development, yet is currently a huge money losing venture. To put it in perspective, per-stall costs are well over $20,000 and will be pushing $30,000 if material prices keep rising. Underground parking is significantly more expensive. The market currently doesn’t generate the revenue required to pay back the costs per stall. Informal sources have put the break even point for a new parking garage at $180 a month per stall. Building facilities to parking cars isn’t cheap, and Milwaukee’s below-average parking costs are a hidden burden on making new developments happen.
The end result is that developments don’t get done because downtown Milwaukee has too much parking. Infill developments that do happen (The Residences on Water being a good example) help the problem very slowly by replacing surface parking with buildings, but aren’t enough at the current rate.
The cheap cost of parking in downtown Milwaukee is definitely is a huge obstacle, if not the biggest, for new developments downtown.
What can be done to help the private market, encourage development downtown, and fix the surface parking lot problem?
First, Milwaukee needs to implement parking benefit districts downtown.
What is a parking benefit district? In short it’s market rate street parking with the money generated in excess of city expenses and enforcement costs going towards improving the neighborhood through improvements like bicycle lanes, expanded sidewalks, and other streetscaping improvements. The decision on what to spend the money on would be made by the Business Improvement District (BID) or a similar organization. Prices would be adjusted to ensure 80% of stalls are occupied during peak business hours.
A parking benefit district would actually make parking easier in downtown Milwaukee. Higher rates for on-street parking would discourage all-day parking, leaving more spots open for people coming in and out of the neighborhood. It would also ease congestion slightly, by opening up the street and eliminating people circling looking for spots. More information is available from various sources after a quick search.
Second, the city should explore ways to reduce and eliminate surface parking lots.
Surface parking lots break apart neighborhoods, both visually and physically. They offer rates cheaper than parking garages. Modern parking garages integrate with neighborhoods much better than surface lots. To make matters worse they’re a great source of run-off. Surface lots by lowering the market rate for parking in Milwaukee, actually prevent new developments from happening. Surface lots should be looked at as an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. Converting unsightly, polluting pieces of blacktop into wealth-generating buildings should be a priority in Milwaukee.
The city can do this by offering incentives to develop surface lots or by imposing taxes or fees on them. Taxes on early bird specials, and special taxes or fees on surface lots are sure to be met with political opposition. More politically appealing may be the route of offering incentives to developers in the form of TIF districts. Incentive packages could also be made for lot owners to sell the lot, as many have been reluctant to sell to-date.
Milwaukee needs to move to market-rate metered street parking and work to eliminate more surface lots to encourage new development, help existing parking garages, increase safety and walkability, and most importantly keep downtown as the economic and social heart of not only the city, but the region.