Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Parking rates at nine City-owned parking lots and garages in and around downtown San Antonio will increase by $3 to $4 next year during large events if City Council approves the change next month as part of the City’s fiscal year 2019 budget.
The special event rate is implemented about 30 days per year, said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations department, which manages all City-owned parking facilities, among other things. Fees at privately-owned garages during such events are typically $10 to $20 more, he said.
“Those lots [and garages] have machines that are taking cash … and generating change,” Jacks told City Council during a budget briefing session Tuesday. When machines have to give $9 in change for a $20 bill, Jacks said, they require more maintenance and can malfunction. He recommended raising the price to a multiple of five to reduce the amount of change and future maintenance costs, and keep up with the changing downtown parking market.
The City anticipates that maintenance savings and increased fees would add $128,689 to its annual parking revenue, Jacks said. The department’s total FY 2019 budget is $32.6 million.
“Whenever I see a fee increase, I say, ‘Wow, do we really need that?'” Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said, outlining concerns that people already think it’s too expensive to park downtown. Perry also pointed to what he called a “surplus” of money in the budget’s parking fund, $11.2 million, and suggested the public perception of charging more for parking would be negative.
“Having that fund balance was not accidental,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley said – it was strategic.
In previous years, that balance has been used to build additional garages, Sculley said, but as the City prioritizes walkability and alternative transportation, it is examining more creative ways of reducing traffic and alleviating parking concerns.
The department is working on finding a mobile application that could direct drivers to spots downtown, and the City is partnering with Centro San Antonio on a pilot program to bring more shade, Jacks said.
“Bottom line is, I think parking is always going to be an issue until we solve the walking issue,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. Oftentimes, “it’s not a long walk, it’s just hot.”
Out of the approximately 20,000 parking spots downtown, the City owns about 6,000, Sculley said.
The City also offers free parking every Tuesday after 5 p.m. as part of the Downtown Tuesday program, launched in 2012 by then-Councilman Diego Bernal (D1), Jacks said.
Perry said weekdays are not the best days to entice locals to come downtown. “I would like to talk to you some more about another day that’s more convenient,” he said.
The City could also do a better job of promoting the program, which includes discounts for veterans and other parking deals, Jacks said.
Downtown has seen an increase in housing over the past few years, mostly in the form of mid-rise apartment buildings, he said. The City’s 2020 goal of adding 7,500 units to the urban core is well within reach, he said, with 6,700 already built or in the planning stage.
But the incentives the City used to encourage this growth were put on pause earlier this year amid concerns that the programs attracted development not affordable to most San Antonio residents and that incentives were no longer needed to encourage development.
City Council will consider changes to the incentive programs on Oct. 11, Sculley said, and they will include incentives for affordable housing.
The new policy, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, should ensure that “San Antonians can afford the housing that we’re incentivizing in the downtown area.”
The incentive changes align with the recommendations provided by the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, which worked for one year to craft a report that was released this month.
Most of the CCDO’s budget goes toward maintaining the River Walk and parking facilities.
The department also oversees the river barges and downtown venues like La Villita. Revenue from the City’s contract with new river barge operator Go Rio Cruises is up 17 percent.
CCDO also coordinates major events like the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, Fiesta, and more. The City hosted 781 events at its downtown venues last year, Jacks said.
The City is hosting a series of budget input sessions ahead of City Council’s vote on the budget on Sept. 13. “Young professionals” are invited to the next SASpeakUp event at Cherrity Bar, 302 Montana St., Tuesday from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
“The event includes free appetizers, giveaways, and opportunities to speak one-on-one with City leaders,” according to a news release. Nirenberg, Sculley, Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2), Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, and Assistant City Managers Carlos Contreras and Lori Houston will be in attendance. They will be joined by two local bloggers: Aquila Mendez-Valdez of HauteInTexas.com and Stephanie Guerra of PuroPinche.com.
There are two more input meetings scheduled for Thursday evening and Saturday morning, and the latter will be in Spanish. Click here for details.