By Mary Hladky
Efforts to build a downtown parking garage are bolstered by a new study that finds Boca Raton needs more public parking.
The peak demand area around Mizner Park needs 108 more parking spaces now, and that number will grow to as many as 150 by 2020, according to the study by Kimley-Horn and Associates. By 2040, as many as 350 more will be needed.
Kimley-Horn collected parking data March 30-April 1 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Demand around Mizner Park was strongest from 2 to 9 p.m. on all three days.
The 1,275 existing spaces downtown, stretching from Camino Real to Northeast Mizner Boulevard, are enough to meet demand since they are only 70 percent used, the study found.
The problem is that those public spaces are not all located near where many people want to shop and dine, Kimley-Horn’s Chris Heggen told the City Council on July 24. So while vacant spaces are available, many people don’t want to park and walk several blocks to their destinations.
Council member Scott Singer said he was concerned about reports that people unable to find public parking downtown go instead to other cities.
Heggen said he too has heard those stories, but the study could not measure if that is happening.
“We have all heard anecdotal stories of people coming downtown, not being able to park and leaving,” he said. “That is not what we want to happen.”
Asked if ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft will reduce the need for downtown public parking, Heggen said that hasn’t happened yet. Even if ride sharing increases in the future, that doesn’t eliminate the need for more parking near-term.
Heggen suggested that a new downtown parking garage be built in a way that it can be converted to another use if the need for parking decreases.
The council is still mulling where to build a garage. While members initially considered city-owned land behind the downtown library north of City Hall, they now are leaning more toward a location east of Dixie Highway.
Concerns about crossing Dixie Highway and the FEC railroad tracks will dissuade many people from parking on the city-owned property, Heggen said. That problem could be alleviated by a good shuttle service, he said.
Kimley-Horn will conduct another study later this year so the city will have more robust data that take into account the opening of several downtown restaurants and more people moving in to new downtown residential units.
Options Kimley-Horn outlined to alleviate present and future parking shortages include:
• Acquiring 1.25 to 3.5 acres for a surface parking lot somewhere between Dixie Highway and Mizner Boulevard.
• Acquiring a 1- to 2-acre parcel for a parking garage in the same area. The garage would cost $6.5 million to $10 million to build, not including land acquisition.
• Using existing parking lots near downtown during off-peak times and providing shuttles to and from downtown.
• Providing parking in the proposed new city government campus and using shuttles.