Want To Save Land, Construction Costs In Building A Garage? Try Automated Parking By Wes Guckert

February 25, 2015

Automated Parking, its benefits and issues, is the topic of a seminar at the Parking Industry Exhibition being held the first week in April in Chicago. If you are unfamiliar with the technology, or curious if it might be right for you, don’t miss this meeting of the masters at PIE 2015.


No longer does the “American Dream” involve just a home in the ‘burbs with a white picket fence. Today, individuals – from young professionals to empty nesters – are looking to reside in a City or urban center. Recent studies validate this trend, showing that urban populations are at their highest levels in over 100 years. New mixed-used developments now allow for luxury living with all the amenities one could want – and then some – all within close proximity to entertainment, restaurants, work and culture.


To get a feel for just how popular mixed-used developments have become in the United States – particularly in urban areas – all one needs to do is a quick Google search. Countless large-scale developments incorporating everything from office and hotel to residential, retail, and restaurants, are popping up from Miami, Florida to Bellevue, Washington – and all points in between. Some of the largest projects, which take years to plan, develop, and build, require significant parcels of land. The 23 acres currently in development for Boston’s Seaport Square project will provide 6.3 million square feet of space once completed. Miami’s $1 billion Brickell City Center project calls for the development of 5.4 million square feet. Meanwhile, in Southeast Austin, Texas a 390-acre mixed-used project has just been announced. The list goes on and on, and on.


Part of the appeal of having a work-live-play environment is the time saved commuting. Once at their destination, the last thing anyone wants is to walk another 10-15 minutes to reach their office, grocery store, or restaurant. While some who live in urban centers have ditched the car, most still have a vehicle, and these centers have to find an efficient way to accommodate the cars that come with the high volume of people. This remains true even if the cars stay parked for most of the week.


Accommodating Cars: Automated Garages

Most think of standard ramp garages – either below or above ground – are the only means to accommodate the sheer number of cars at a multimillion square foot project. The reality is that automated garages can provide a better alternative, for multiple reasons.


For starters, developers have the potential to save millions of dollars if they choose an automated garage versus a standard ramp garage. The idea of saving 20-30% in the cost of building an underground garage using automated parking versus a standard ramp garage is, at a minimum, eyebrow-raising.


As an example, a project being studied outside Washington, DC is examining whether or not automated parking would be more cost effective than a standard ramp garage. In this particular case, it was determined that an underground garage, designed to service a high-rise apartment building, would cost $75,000 per space, all in. As luck would have it, it was determined that the footprint of the building would need to be reduced due to utility issues unforeseen in the original development plan. The study examined whether or not the parking could be accommodated using an automated parking solution. It was determined that the cost “all in” for the automated system, plus the underground “bathtub” structure, would be $58,000 per space, resulting in a $17,000 per space savings. This equates to an overall savings of 23% from the original $75,000 per space cost, and fit within the reduced available footprint. The ramp garage would not fit in the smaller footprint.


Another study examined a circumstance for an automobile dealership in the suburban area of Northern Virginia. The dealership was severely lacking in the ability to park new and used cars as well as employee vehicles. It was also out of options as it related to the tradition of parking these types of vehicles off-site on vacant lots or within parking areas for shopping centers that are unused. As a result, the study examined the possibility of building a standard multi-level ramp garage with a fairly standard 120 foot by 240 foot space.


In contrast, the study found that the same number of parking spaces using automated parking instead, would only require a footprint of 60 feet by 100 feet. This translates to an 80% land savings! The cost of the land in this suburban area of Northern Virginia, based upon the County land records and the Bureau of Tax Assessment, is about $2 million an acre. Therefore, the cost of building the standard ramp garage in land value only, would require the purchase of about $1.3 million worth of land. That does not include setbacks, and other issues that inevitably arise. It was determined that providing the amount of parking needed for a 60 foot by 100 foot automated garage only required the $300,000 worth of land, resulting in an overall savings of $1 million in land costs alone.


Clearly, the effectiveness of using automated parking in this circumstance was a very effective alternative. This same type of condition will not exist everywhere but it is something that should be examined when land values are substantial. The numbers get even bigger when considering urban or central business district land values of $4 million an acre or more.


Perhaps the most important benefit of an automated garage is the safety and security it provides. There is a reason many ominous movie scenes take place in a parking garage. From November 2014 to the first week of January 2015, 40 cars were vandalized in a Norfolk, Virginia parking garage. Surveillance cameras in the City-owned garage were still not enough to deter – or catch – those vandals that intentionally damaged cars. Scenarios like this simply cannot occur in automated garages.


As mixed-use developments continue to be developed across the county, parking will continue to be a significant aspect of any project. As an alternative that saves money and land, and is much safer and secure, automated parking deserves to be examined in both above and below ground garages.


Wes Guckert, PTP, is President of The Traffic Group, you can contact him at wguckert@trafficgroup.com.