The Upcoming Parking Crisis in Downtown Raleigh

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No other area of the city is as unique about its parking situation as downtown Raleigh. Contrary to what some think, there is a gross oversupply of parking spaces in and around the city’s central business district.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the city and private developers responded to the increased attention that downtown was getting. Due to ongoing revitalization that went on during that time, more space was needed for workers and visitors.

Since 1999, the city has built four decks to handle the projected demand.

Today, the city has a growing debt issue, in large part because parking was built based on plans that were scaled down or later canceled.

Optimism towards downtown,” said city Parking Administrator Gordon Dash, is what led to our current oversupply.

For more than a year, the Raleigh Public Record has been following the growing parking debt, now in the millions of dollars, that the city faces because of losses in revenue.

The Wake County parking deck off McDowell Street.

Leo Suarez

The Wake County parking deck off McDowell Street. Photo by Leo Suarez.

If the city can’t come up with a plan to increase revenue, future years could look just as bleak with a $13 million shortfall predicted for 2015,” wrote Ariella Monti, a Record reporter.

So while City Council members discuss alternatives — including a possible ad revenue plan —there is not much being done to prevent this from happening again once the city digs itself out of the debt hole.

We’re not building any new decks for the next five to 10 years,” Dash said.

The city isn’t the only one providing parking. The state, the county and private property owners have all built lots and decks downtown in the last decade as well.

Each party has built parking in response to their own projects’ needs. For example, the Wake County Justice center has an 1,160-parking-space deck and the Nature Research Center is next to a nine-story deck.

We, the citizens of North Carolina, continue to pile on the parking spaces in an area that not only doesn’t need them but already has too much.

The problem I see on the horizon could be from the lost opportunity among our governments with offices in downtown Raleigh.

Let’s take a look at the new Wake County Justice Center, nearly complete on Salisbury Street.

The new facility is supported by an 1,160 space deck on McDowell Street, according to the project website. After walking around the area to get a feel of the county’s new project, I used online maps to estimate the distance between the parking deck’s pedestrian exits and the Justice Center’s nearest entrance. The walk is about 0.2 miles.

parking map

Leo Suarez

This map demonstrates the walking distance from the Wake County Parking Deck (shown in red). It is about the same distance to the Blount Street Deck or the Moore Square Deck (both shown in blue).


To be fair, the county built its deck in preparation for the future growth of the county. But they could be repeating the same “optimistic” mistake the city made.

I floated my idea to Dash and he liked it; however, he said to his knowledge, no one is thinking of ideas like that.

Some private developers seem to be, however. The now-open Hampton Inn in Glenwood South, with more than 120 rooms, is leasing parking from a deck across the street. A possible Residence Inn hotel may lease spaces from a city-owned deck on Salisbury Street.

The hope is that as the economy turns around and downtown Raleigh lands more businesses, the revenue will return and the debt paid off. Until then, all I can suggest is to “Park Local.”

11 thoughts on “The Upcoming Parking Crisis in Downtown Raleigh

  1. The city needs to find ways get visitors to Downtown Raleigh to park in the decks rather than simply counting on long term parking contracts for city workers. We hear all the time about their being ample parking downtown, but the problem is lack of convenience.

    Downtown Raleigh continues to add more restaurant and retail offerings with the goal of attracting more visitors, and these people should receive a higher priority in future planning.

    Some examples of things that could be done to better cater to shoppers include better way finding signage, color coded level/space identifiers and reduced daytime pricing. Visitors should also get priority in terms of space location within the parking deck so that short-term (in and out) visitor spaces are always located on the more convenient lower floors, rather than on the top floors.

  2. The parking issue is due to private investors pulling out of deals that they had promised to ahead of time. Raleigh seems to be pretty notorious for hearing about a big new project that is going to revitalize a certain area and everything being pretty much set until it comes to actually breaking ground (ie: moving the bus station downtown to the rail station in the warehouse district, condo’s going up over the bail bonds place at martin/wilmington, etc) the investors back out and the city gets left in the cold.

    It blows my mind how much this city lets the few real estate magnates play with the property and build up certain areas and dump off in other areas all the while, giving them huge subsidies to do so(im looking at you empire eats.)

    The downtown area needs retail, this is a fact. But when we say retail, we should not mean boutique retail, which apparently are the only business willing to move into downtown. We don’t need a flip flop shop, we need a bicycle shop. We don’t need a womens boutique, we need williams and sonoma. We need retail that appeals to a mass audience, not a niche market. I walk on wilmington street every day past the limited retail that is there and the only retail business that EVER has anyone in it is that purse store with those holly aiken bags. Everything else is dead.

    So yes, we need retail, but we need the right type of retail.

  3. Raleigh has tremendous potential and it is already a wonderful city.

    But our leaders need to think long term when it comes to parking. Consider what we want the City to be in 20, 30, 50 years. Think about what you regard as the greatest cities in the world – New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, San Francisco – take your pick. Would you ever take a car there? No! A thousand times No! There is too much congestion and parking is both rare and expensive. And parking garage facades are like missing teeth in the ground level streetscape.

    In the longer term, the issue is behavioral change. As the central city increases in density (and therefore, by the way, in dollars per acre of tax revenue – with little required in the way of additional services), using the precious real estate to store automobiles that are not being used will become more and more untenable. People need incentives to use transit.

    Today, we have an underused, but tremendously useful, R-line. How do we get people to use it? After all, it makes parking on one side of downtown and enjoying restaurants and events on the other side of downtown a snap. But Americans have been brainwashed by decades of dominance by an autocentric mindset – sold on the illusion that the automobile represents freedom. Here’s my proposal to change behavior. Have the merchants provide R line drivers with coupons that entitle riders to a discount at their businesses. After all, patrons who come to their businesses by alternative means (alternative to cars) cost the business owners less because they don’t have to provide that 9’X17′ swath of downtown real property for car storage.

    As Raleigh matures, this problem will become more acute, not less. Just look at the history of other great cities through their maturation. So lets start changing behavior now. People need to know that they should free themselves of their cars and rely on other transportation infrastructure when they visit downtown. Road capacity in downtown needs to be preserved for business to business commerce and public services such as sanitation. To the extent possible, we need to rid the road of casual visitors who circle endlessly looking for a parking spot to become free.

  4. The County’s deck is to serve the new county office building that will be opening this year. So it is needed for employee’s parking needs.

    I always think it is funny when North Raleigh people complain that they cannot find parking Downtown. The actually mean parking right in front of their destination!

  5. I guess it’s never occurred to anyone to invest in mass transit so as to not need the cars downtown in the first place? Yeah, I guess not.

  6. Vince E, may I suggest you continue walking down Wilmington St. a few more blocks to Seaboard Station to see successful retail businesses in action? There’s a great garden supply shop, pet supply shop, and hardware store that are all thriving.

  7. Until residents and leaders of this city stop saying things like “Raleigh is already a wonderful city” and “Raleigh is a world-class city” and realize IT IS NOT, then, and only then, will new ideas flourish. Compare Raleigh to great cities: Boston, SF, Chicago (you can’t). Compare Raleigh to good cities: Indy, Charlotte, Oklahoma City, Columbus (you can’t). Compare Raleigh to decent cities: Richmond, Des Moines, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati. (hardly)

    What do all these great to decent cities have in common? Sports and entertainment downtown. What does Raleigh have downtown? Restaurants, bars and museums.

    The Mudcats and the stadium NEED TO BE DOWNTOWN. Stop wasting city and county money on that boondoggle out in nowhere. Stop, yes, Raleigh could have a baseball team within the fictitious 30-mile rule from Durham. We’re two completely separate markets, and anyone with the gumption to challenge the status quo will make baseball IN THE CITY a reality by 2020.

    While we’re at it, plan now to build a new arena downtown by 2025.

    Also, we need RETAIL, particularly that which is mid-market. There are 3 new micro-breweries set to open in Raleigh in early ’13. Not one of which will take up the most obvious location, a previous brewery, in City Market. That’s dumbfounding. So is the fact that there are few “fast-casual” type family, inexpensive dining options in the core of the city.

    Similarly, more comprehensive entertainment options must be booked at Fletcher, Meymandi, Memorial Hall and the Outdoor Amphitheatre (which is the perfect place for a hybrid baseball-theatre venue). The schedules in these venues scale far too, in a word, geriatric. Book acts that people will come see. Keep the venues busy with events other than the Symphony, Opera and NC Theatre … all of which can be terrific, yet all of which have limited audiences. More shows. Better shows, across a wide range of demographics.

    Stop gloating over Forbes’ rankings from people who don’t actually LIVE in Raleigh. Travel elsewhere and see the tremendous opportunity Raleigh has with a blank canvas in downtown … if only some visionaries step forth with new ideas instead of the cronyism for certain restauranteurs and the same ol’ same ol’ developments.

  8. There’s a new parking lot management company in Wake County called “Park Select”. While Park Select offers business and property owners an alternative to towing, their business concept also works in favor of those who need to park in high demand areas. (If I parked where I shouldn’t, I know I’d prefer a $25 slap-on-the-wrist fine as opposed to having to get my car out of impound!) Park Select currently has pay lots popping up in the South Glenwood area. They charge a $5 flat fee for parking (by phone and/or cash boxes). While that may seem high when street parking is free nights and weekends, you’re paying for the convenience and good luck finding the street spaces! $5 is not all that bad when you consider that you tip a valet that much and that’s just for that one restaurant. The Park Select $5 covers going wherever you want the whole evening!

  9. I agree with MAS. I’m tired of these rankings putting Raleigh as the Best City for “Whatever topic is hot these days”. I’d like to see more tangible proof of growth and improvement. While I agree on the need for more entertainment / sports facilities downtown, baseball is boring to me… I’d prefer a soccer stadium.

    Regarding parking downtown: currently it is very easy and inexpensive. My solution: build the light rail and commuter rail lines. Have inexpensive park-n-rides at the ends of the lines (Millbrook Rd in North Raleigh for the light rail, Garner for the commuter rail). Increase parking fees downtown to encourage transit ridership – or to help pay for it from the stubborn drivers.