Jeramey Jannene

What’s The Cost of Parking in Downtown Milwaukee?

By - Jul 24th, 2008 12:10 pm

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.


15 thoughts on “What’s The Cost of Parking in Downtown Milwaukee?”

  1. Coldwake81 says:

    What your saying in this article is that you would like people who live and work downtown to pay substantially more money for parking so we can have more development? I’m all for new development but if I was one of those people who has to pay an extra $30 or $40 a month to see a new building go up I would be rather upset.

    Your entire argument doesn’t make a lot of sense in the fact that you want to elimenate parking so developers can build more parking! Even if they did add that parking the people who use it have to spend that much extra each month to do so.

    Cheap and available parking and the easy of getting around are some of the great aspects of downtown milwaukee that make our city superior to many others our size and larger. Lets not give that up so easily. Natural demand will create new developments as they would normally arise in due course. Lets let that demand happen and/or spur it in ways that do not ruin some of the greatest aspects of our city.

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:


    Eliminating free street parking and surface parking lots would allow new developments to come. New mixed use developments would eliminate the need to drive for more and more people. The new developments would also further encourage the development of a transit system (or serious repair of the one we have now).

    The street parking system proposed also would encourage more bike lanes and better streets, further eliminating the need for driving.

    As more and more people jump off their cars (which I have witnessed many do this summer with gas prices), car share programs become a reality, so that you have the car when you need it.

    You’re absolutely right, my argument doesn’t make much sense if you assume that everyone keeps their car. My idea is to enable more people to get rid of their car, and even more than that to drastically reduce their usage.

  3. Jon says:


    Thanks for the interesting article on parking supply downtown. I have a question regarding the point that new development frequently requires structured parking. Is this a regulatory issue, i.e. in the zoning code? Or is this a priority for lenders involved in larger developments?


  4. Jesse276 says:

    I take issue with some of your facts. Where do you get the “median metered parking rate” for Downtown Milwaukee? It’s .25 per 15 minutes = $1.00 per hour, what is “Downtown”?

    I agree with some of your ideas on raising the cost of metered parking, which has been suggested elsewhere, but then you have to confront the reality of all the restaurants, retail, and other businesses that already have to work against the misperception that Downtown is a parking hell.

    As far as what to do, giving handouts to the parking lot owners will just spur them to buy more land and turn it in to parking lots. You will see lots disappear when they can make it expensive to have a parking lot Downtown. Mandate that if cars are parked in them, they must have an attendant on duty. Initiate a land-value tax that taxes on what the land could become given its zoning, focus less on its use. I’m sure there’s more options and opinions out there how to shrink the lots. Overall good article.

  5. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Jesse I linked to the source article right before I listed off the quoted facts. I’m not sure what they define as downtown.

    Raising parking prices downtown on the street would actually make it easier to park by opening up more spots. People don’t complain about the price often, they complain about the hassle.

    It’s a tough issue.

  6. Angry Parker says:

    Congrats on your article! Thanks to the efforts of you and others, we are now paying MORE than the national average per parking. To pay 25 cents for every 10 minutes is rediculous in a city as small as Milwaukee. What a horrible idea. Maybe you don’t park downtown, but it is sure a hassle to have that much change available for the meters.

  7. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Angry Parker

    I assume you’re referring to the Third Ward, where rates were raised around the turn of the year. Do they not have the new electronic machines to pay with credit cards?

  8. Mark Klinkowitz says:

    I realize that your article is now 6 years old and in that time, I personally have become a downtown employee. You’ve gotten what you wished for. Currently there are several major development projects currently under way in downtown Milwaukee. Most notably, Northwestern Mutual and The Couture, with the new Bucks Arena so to be under way. All of which will have parking structures when completed. I work in the busy area of Jefferson and Mason where I would agree there is ample parking available but the cost is no longer below the national average. Because of the influx of construction workers for these projects, both the city and privately owned parking structures are taking advantage of the situation and are price gouging everyone that parks in the heart of downtown. Metered parking on the street has become almost impossible to find. These workers are on the job site by 5 or 6am and with the cheapest option to park being a meter on the street, they of course are taken up all day by these workers. This has made demand for parking skyrocket. Parking structures are eliminating early bird specials thus effectively increasing daily parking from 7$ or 8$ a day to 12$ or 15$. I used to park at a 10 hour meter on Kilbourne at .50 an hour which would cost me 4$ to park all day. Of course by the time I get to work at 7am, those are all taken. The structure across the street from my job eliminated their early bird special of 7$ per day if in before 9am to take advantage of the fact that these workers are reporting to work before 9 and are now charging 15$ per day. 15$ per day?! That’s more than three times what I was paying. And of course, many structures will no longer sell a monthly permit. I’m sure that’s because they want to maximize their profits. I am a chef so of course I work Saturdays which is free to park on the street as long as you move your car off the block every two hours. That’s an unposted ordinance by the way which is only one of the ways the city parking enforcement tries to write unknowing people tickets. But since I don’t have to pay to park on Saturday, my cost to park a car went from 16$ a week to 60$. Or 64$ a month to 240$ because of the developments in downtown Milwaukee. Since you thought it was such a great idea, may I suggest you pay the difference of what I now have to pay. I realize that eventually the construction workers will be gone but not for at least 3 years. Probably more like 4 or 5. That’s a long time to get price gouged to park a car. The absolute best part of this is the fact that almost ALL of construction workers that are hogging all if the affordable parking spaces is that the unions they work for are reimbursing them for the cost of parking. In other words, they aren’t even paying for parking at all! So why not park in now expensive structures and leave the affordable parking to the people that need it? Oh yea that’s right, their in a labor union so they don’t care about anybody else or what their high wage, benefit package, and shoddy work is costing the economy. That’s of course a whole different argument. Thank goodness for development and progress. I now can’t afford to even park.

  9. I’m a construction worker that spends a lta time downtown.parking is bad at best and finding a spot even worse.I’ve never been reinbursted for parking so I can’t tell u how pissed I am to read comment from a Weiner that complains the construction workers are taking up all cheap parking.and as far as shorty construction work goes its not done by members of the union I belong to.(local 8 ironworkers)I had to attend a apprentiship to get into the union along with a lot of schooling .probially a lot more than the guy with desk stop weining and just pay the price.owners of the parking structures have to deal w city taxes that keep going up and up .also taggers spray painting and vandulis doing damage so there intiteled to make a profit when they can.

  10. Mark Klinkowitz says:

    Hey Robert. I like have you assume I have a desk job when in fact, I’m a foodservice employee that works 50 or 60 hours a week on my feet in a hot kitchen. And since I has a close personal friend that’s in the iron workers union, it’s guaranteed you make more money than me. A lot more considering both your base rate if pay if your a journey man and your health care benefits which aren’t even offered to me. It’s a whole different discussion regarding unionized labor and how it’s destroying business owners and America in general but the original point I was trying to make is that the article written about how Milwaukee has lower parking rates than the rest of the nation and as a result is hampering development is no longer the case. EVERYONE that parks downtown is now being taken advantage of and it’s because of the influx of construction workers taking all of the available affordable parking spaces long before anyone else that works downtown gets to work. Paking structures in a 6 block radius of any of the major construction sites have discontinued early bird specials and some of them also claim to not have any spaces available for a monthly pass. These changes happened right when the major construction projects started so I’m sticking to my guns on this. Frankly, if your not being reimbursed for your parking, then you should be just as pissed as I am over some of the parking rate hikes in the structures. That is of course unless your one of the construction workers that reports to work by 5 or 6 am and get a .50 cent an hour parking spot at a 10 hour meter which is where I used to park before all the major construction projects began. Now instead of 16$ per week to park, I now pay at least 40$. More than double depending on if I can get a spot in a structure that still has an early special. But guess what? Most of those spots are taken to. And guess by who? Yep, construction workers. So now I either pay 1.50$ for every two hours at a meter on the street which is 12$ per day, or 15$ per day in a structure. So sorry if I sound like a winer (which is the correct way to spell it by the way) but I’m sure if you had to suddenly pay more than double to park your car to get to a job you’ve had for more than 5 years, you be pissed to even though you make WAY more money than me. An extra $50 to 75$ a month to someone that makes 45k per year or less is huge. With all that being said, where do you park and how much do you pay? I’m curious since you told me to shut up and pay the higher cost of parking. Well, I am paying the higher cost of parking but I’m certainly not going to shut up about it.

  11. Tim says:

    So to recap, “boo hoo, parking isn’t cheap, someone else should pay for your commute”.

    How about this, I’ll chip in for your parking if you cover my mortgage. Deal?

  12. Mark Klinkowitz says:

    I never would have thought there are people out there that are actually in favor of paying MORE for parking. Must be the same people that voted for Obama and now we’re ALL paying more taxes too. You all are missing the point here. The article was written about how Milwaukee’s low cost of parking is hampering development which is completely untrue and off base obviously. The point is and what I’m really complaining about are the parking structure owners gouging people with higher rates and the city of Milwaukee not providing more .50 per hour meters of affordable city parking lots for all the downtown employees, construction workers included. The taxes the structure owners pay did not go up over night like the cost of parking did. Their just taking advantage of the situation. On Milwaukee published an article by Dave Begel in august of last year that everyone that parks downtown should read. The city made 4.7 million dollars in revenue from meters and 21 million in revenue from parking citations. I’d like to see how much revenue ABM, CPS, OR Interstate parking companies generate and then compare it to city parking revenue and what they pay in property tax. I’ve tried to find out but their all pretty tight lipped about it. I’m guessing that’s because it’s a huge sum of money that’s earned by not really doing anything at all. Sure they pay taxes and maintain the structures appearance but that’s really the only operating expense they have and now some of the structures near the major construction projects have doubled their rate. I have also considered taking the bus to work but since the city’s transportation department can’t run itself like every other government run program, it’s almost impossible for me to do so and completely unpractical. So I will say once again, the point here is everyone that works downtown is getting shafted by the rate of parking and the higher expense certainly doesn’t help the economy of downtown since people don’t even want to go there because of the parking nightmare. Comparing what everyone pays for parking and your mortgage is rediculous and uninsightful by the way. I have a mortgage too and it would easier for both of to pay if our cost of parking was 50$ or 75$ a month cheaper. So if your ok with the higher cost to park, I’ll gladly let you pay for my parking so I can put the savings toward my mortgage but since your in favor of the higher cost to park, your mortgage is your own problem. You know, if we all combined into one voice about this issue, maybe that voice would be heard and something would be done about it so EVERYONE would benefit.

  13. Eric S says:

    Parking structure owners make pricing decisions like any other private business – presumably they are attempting to balance supply and demand to maximize their revenues. That is not to say that every parking facility has the rate set at the precise level to maximize revenues, but if the lots and structures are largely unfilled there is the incentive to lower rates and if the lots and structures are largely filled there is the incentive to raise rates, not unlike other businesses making pricing decisions.

    As for street parking, if spaces are exceedingly difficult to find, the problem then is that the street parking in that area is under-priced. I’d suggest in the case of street parking, the goal for the city should be to set the price at a level that ensures that there are usually a few spaces available. Not so high that most spaces typically go unfilled and no so low that every space is typically filled.

    Generally, those desiring long term (more than a few hours) parking should be looking at lots and structures so that street parking is available for more short term parking – providing more turnover of spaces and therefore more customers for nearby establishments.

    I don’t see why it matters whether spaces are filled by construction workers, office workers, retail workers, customers, visitors, etc. If parking is becoming more expensive and/or harder to find, that suggests that there are more workers and more customers downtown – which suggests the economy downtown is not struggling.

    And, I’d also note that public transportation, for better or worse, falls largely under the purview of county government, not city government. I agree that we need more and better transit, and that the city government should probably play a greater role – but MCTS is essentially a county operation (with nontrivial state and federal funds also involved).

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