Charlottesville’s Parking Gamble

Rendering of the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs.

The People’s Republic of Charlottesville is undertaking an interesting experiment — the city has approved development of the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs (CODE), a Silicon Valley-inspired office space, that provides only 74 parking spaces downtown for as many as 600 workers. Worried that the project will aggravate the parking shortage around the Downtown Mall, some local businesses have expressed their unhappiness.

The Center should provide useful insight into the evolving economics of parking. Local governments typically require developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces per resident or worker. Other downtown businesses have had to abide by the rules, but suddenly CSH Development, developer of CODE is exempt, sparing it considerable development expense. Nearby businesses fear that workers at CODE will swamp the limited supply of public parking.

“I don’t blame [developer Jaffray] Woodriff,” said Jacie Dunkle, owner of the Tin Whistle Irish Pub and the Salad Maker, according to C-ville.com. “I blame the city. It never required him to have more spaces, even though people are struggling to find parking in the city as it is.”

But some economists have argued that most Virginia localities have excess parking, which takes up space that could be devoted to other urban uses. Free marketeers suggest that the market, not government decrees, should determine the supply of parking spaces, and environmentalists advocate limiting parking as a way to curtail automobile use, reduce CO2 emissions and save the planet.

The 167,000-square-foot CODE building, which is being erected on the eastern end of the Charlottevsille’s downtown pedestrian mall, envisions leasing to a diverse tenant mix, providing “innovative companies with a new kind of work environment.” The project aims to become “the nexus of entrepreneurial activity in central Virginia.” The building is designed to achieve LEED Gold certification. Rooftop terraces will provide “expansive green space for tenant use.”

The project conforms to Smart Growth principles by providing ground-level retail, a pedestrian walkway connecting to the downtown pedestrian mall, electric vehicle charging stations, and underground parking that will be convertible to office space “in anticipation of evolving transportation trends.” Other than bicycle racks and showers to accommodate workers who jog or bicycle to work, neither news sources nor the CODE website make note of any measures being taken to reduce automobile usage by tenants or otherwise dampen the demand for parking.

Woodriff, a University of Virginia alumnus, has become wealthy by developing a unique approach to computerized trading. His firm, Quantitative Investment Management, has $4 billion under management, according to his website/blog, Transparent Simplicity. (Financial policy geeks might find his website to be quite interesting. In his latest post, he argues how banks and their lobbyists have created “regulatory sclerosis” by introducing regulatory complexity and uncertainty by means of the Dodd-Frank banking reform act. There is significantly more risk in the U.S. banking system than commonly recognized, he says.)

Bacon’s bottom line: Woodriff may have more in mind than has leaked into the media. Perhaps he is anticipating the advent of Transportation as a Service, in which people subscribe to transportation services as an alternative to owning cars outright. In this vision, people would routinely use Uber-like apps and ride in driverless cars to their destinations, thus eliminating the need for parking spaces. It’s not clear when such services will become widely available, however,  and when they do, they will likely appear in major metropolitan areas before reaching small metros like Charlottesville.

The City of Charlottesville is taking a risk by letting Woodriff skate without making the usual commitment to parking. If things work out badly, the city could choke retail commerce and tax revenue. Woodriff is taking some risk, too. He is banking on the idea that roughly 80% of his tenants will either walk, bike, Uber, or take the bus to work — an unprecedented percentage — or find parking spaces elsewhere downtown. Here’s the trick: He’s sharing that risk with the proprietors of other enterprises, who could lose business if the municipal parking system gets overloaded.

This will be fascinating to watch.

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17 responses to “Charlottesville’s Parking Gamble

  1. This is insanity. Developers in Tysons are telling the County and the public that way more people are driving to and from Tysons in SOV cars than were projected. As such, they are pushing for higher parking maximums to meet demand. Adjusting for scale, why should C’Ville expect a different result?

  2. “This is insanity.” Guess he figures he can push cost, and risk of loss of business, onto others there before him, and on the public too.

    • Exactly what I see in this. And the lost vitality and attractiveness to tourists of that hitherto-spectacularly-successful, walkable Market Street mall, will be the price paid.

    • Note that this 167,000 sq. ft. office building will have 74 underground parking spaces. Why?

      I suspect these 74 parking spaces beneath the building will be reserved for the Important People. Who are these Important People?

      The Important People are the decision makers, those few among the many who will decide whether or not to lease space in Center of Developing Entrepreneurs (CODE). These Important People, the decision makings, the elite, and only the elite, will be able to drive to work. Unlike everyone else, the unwashed many, the drones who will have to eat cake, walk, hike, take a bus, only these elite will drive to work. These drones likely will be university students doing drone work for the benefit of the elites. This a perfect business model. How do we know that?

      Because this business model is how UVA operates. The only problem is that it likely will shut down the entire center of Charlottlesville, isolate C’ville’s downtown from everyone else, save for the vampire that now is squatting down in the center of town – the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs. The center is a little downtown version of the new modern UVA that spawned it. It’s entrepreneurs will take over C’ville’s downtown, using 74 reserved parking spaces as their weapon of choice. And destroy Charlottesville as its been used for generations by others.

      How do we know that? We look at the place. Listen what what it says visually. And by the way if operates. And what it says about itself so loudly that everyone in town knows it, but can’t say it. Like happens at UVA.

  3. Despite pretenders – it’s a car-centric world.

    We – a group of 10 of us, were trying to figure out a cost-effective way to get from Fredericksburg to the Smithsonian for an evening lecture.

    We explored a LOT of options from METRO to UBER and in the end – the least expensive way was to go in a Van of one of us.

    Now – that’s a LOT better than 5-10 cars but it still points out that services like VRE, METRO and even UBER are inferior to private autos and while it “works” in 5pm headed north, it was still no picnic.. there are a LOT of cars on the road from the beltway to DC at that hour.

    The irony was that we were also worried about parking – but the mall at the Smithsonian at 6pm is cleared out… and the biggest “traffic” is joggers… and some sketchy-looking folks the police were eyeing.

  4. The City should require the developer either to park itself or spend the saved money on free bus, taxi and Uber/Lyft transportation for users of the building.

  5. Jim has it right. The People’s Republic of Charlottesville. Ideology rules.

  6. wait !!! Isn’t Charlottesville doing something very similar to Arlington and Amazon?

  7. no People’s Republic of Arlington, eh? 😉

  8. Why isn’t this a social justice issue? Doesn’t a lack of parking, therefore increasing the cost of parking, disproportionately affect low income and more often minority citizens? I believe we need to have unlimited tax payer provided parking. If the government won’t protect these disenfranchised citizens from parking justice then they must provide tax payer funded curb to curb transportation services on demand. We cannot allow Cville to create tech job and retail deserts.
    Demand parking justice. Paid parking is akin to poll taxes!

  9. The central driver of post modern America from 1990 onward is how America’s elite, some 5% of us, have aggregated vast and ever growing wealth and privilege for ourselves, and the direct expense of the other 95% of Americans. The great driver behind this ever increasing gap of wealth and advantage between the top 5% and everyone else is the post modern elite university.

    In Virginia, this Center of Developing Entrepreneurs (CODE) and the post modern UVA that has spawned it are metaphors for this horrible trend in America. Failing public schools and communities in Virginia are the carnage (road kill) left in the elitist’s wake. That is precisely what is happening in Charlottlesville today. And it is all going precisely according to a plan drafted by the elites there.

  10. If Mr. Woodriff has quietly made plans to compensate for the lack of parking by implementing an aggressive Transportation Demand Management plan — arranging for carpools, for instance; creating tangible incentives for people to walk, bike or take the bus to work; facilitating telecommuting — I might be sympathetic. But if he DOESN’T have such plans, then I share other readers’ condemnation of the special treatment he’s getting.

    I would advise caution in denouncing Woodriff until we know more. Just because a TDM plan has not been reported doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, or that Charlottesville City Council hasn’t insisted upon one as a condition for the minimal parking requirement. But again, if our fears prove to be well founded, I will full-throatedly join in the chorus of criticism.

  11. I agree with that above statement of Jim’s. But remind that in all cases, social justice is very much a two way street, everywhere.

    • Yes, I also agree with TMT’s statement below. Plus an office building that requires little or no parking is a wonderful thing. A office building devoted to incubating (Developing) Entrepreneurs is also a particularly wonderful thing. But how does in work in its location and surrounds near and far?

      So here with this project, as in all real estate, the question is location, scale, and function. And how that location, scale, and function, impacts locally and regionally, including impacts on neighborhoods, near and far. Particularly those as special, confined and historic as downtown Charlottesville.

      My above reference to this project being part a draft plan was overly specific, so misplaced. And so likely not accurate in any specific sense. I was referring not to any particular project, but only to the long standing idea and stated ambition of C’ville to become a version of Silicon Valley east centered around UVA. That too is a worthy ambition. But how is it to be accomplished. Should it include a 167,000 sq. ft. building next to a historic downtown walking mall that is self described as:

      “A visit to Charlottesville isn’t complete without a stop at the Downtown Mall. It is one of the most beautiful and successful pedestrian malls in the nation, and it’s located in historic downtown Charlottesville. A wonderful mix of restored and renovated buildings that typified small “downtowns” throughout the country can now be seen by visitors as they enjoy shopping, dining and visiting along the brick-paved pedestrian area.

      “The Downtown Mall is a vibrant collection of more than 120 shops and 30 restaurants (many with outdoor cafes) housed in the historic buildings on and around old Main Street. Enjoy dining al fresco (in season) at a number of fine restaurants, shop at any of the unique boutiques or meander by flowing fountains. For family fun, it’s easy to cool off in our ice park or take your children to the hands-on Virginia Discovery Museum. Enjoy attending a movie or play in one of the many fine theaters, or simply relax under magnificent oak trees along the red bricked mall. Convenient parking in nearby garages and parking lots, as well as free trolley service connecting the Downtown Mall to the University of Virginia along West Main Street make a visit to the downtown easy for visitors of all ages.”

      See: https://www.visitcharlottesville.org/listing/charlottesville-historic-downtown-mall/337/

      And what new comes after this complex and where, and how are it and future projects of its ilk remediated, and with what surety. One hopes one is missing something here in this plan as Jim above has suggested.

  12. Keep in mind that TDM addresses only the increase in traffic brought about by new construction. It seeks promises to use various tools to reduce the number of predicted new SOV trips from what they are projected to be, using standard traffic engineering standards.

    For example, assume a new building is projected to cause 1000 new SOV trips a day. A TDM plan might call for reducing that amount by 40% over some time period. There will still be an extra 600 SOV trips even when the building owner is successfully implementing its TDM plan. And that has to be added to the extra SOV trips generated by all other new construction in the area plus the existing base of SOV trips.

    Thus, in Tysons we see most developers meeting their TDM commitments (based on their measurements) and nearby neighborhoods being crushed by cut-through commuter traffic.

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