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Cleveland's award-winning TOD faces challenge: A car-oriented development next door

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/02/15 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Transit, Vibrant cities, Transportation choices

To great fanfare, a mixed-use development slated to go over a surface parking lot in the heart of University Circle got the green light this week. The Intesa development secured backing from the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority to build an 11-story residential tower with 196 apartments and a 470-space parking garage in the first phase of the project. A later phase could include a 150,000-square-foot office building and a 280-space expansion of the garage.

The apartments will be a mix of what developer, Peter Rubin, is calling micro-suites. Starting at 400 square feet for a studio; metro-suites, which are more traditional units; and two-story, townhouse-style penthouses.

<br />Uptown is recognized nationally for its design and transit orientation.<br />Uptown mixes culture, dining, entertainment and living in a walkable environment.<br />An early sketch of the Intesa development shows a mixed use building with a massive parking structure.<br />Site of the future Intesa development.<br />University Circle has sufficient parking; the challenge is pointing out where it is to distracted drivers.<br />Uptown has a small parking lot tucked behind the buildings.<br />Mayfield Road Rapid Station will open in 2015.
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Today, the site on Mayfield Road and E. 117th Street is a cracked ocean of asphalt offering a cheaper parking rate than across the street where a gleaming parking garage spans a city block. Generally speaking, the development will be a higher and better use. Though, a 750-space deck—in the wake of The Cleveland Clinic announcing it will build (another) 300-space garage on E. 105th Street—comes at a potentially awkward moment for University Circle.

The district is entering the final phase of a Transportation and Mobility Study which aims to reduce the demand and possibly the supply of parking by ramping up multi-modal transportation options and building in ways that are more walkable and urban. Worthwhile goals, but critics note that it is difficult to reconcile them with two more mammoth parking decks because they send a signal for more cars to come here and cross paths with pedestrians, some of whom might live in the new apartments.

If Intesa is looking for data on a development that succeeds by not adding new parking in Cleveland, it need look no further than next door. The paint is barely dry on the Uptown development a finalist for the prestigious Rudy Bruner Award and winner of a Transit-Oriented Development Scorecard Silver.

Notably, Uptown was also built over a surface lot. But, instead of adding parking, the $150 million mixed-use development at Ford and Euclid replaced it with rentable square footage. Uptown developers, MRN, could afford the higher land and development costs of University Circle by challenging a paradigm about parking.

Uptown is charging high rents, its occupied and is attracting visitors to tenants like the Museum of Contemporary Art. Uptown and MOCA still have to contend with fears that parking is insufficient, but a comprehensive parking study released in January by University Circle, Inc. provides data to suggest otherwise.

Uptown leveraged the area’s incredible WalkScore—a measure of density and walking distance plus really good transit with the HealthLine running past its front doors.

Intesa should be applauded for adding more density to University Circle. Density is half the secret in the sauce when a place is comfortable to walk, bike or take transit. But, the development has been shopped around for more than a year and hasn’t attracted an anchor tenant for its commercial component. If the future commercial space is driving the numbers for parking, it shows little faith in what the national trend is telling us about the drop off in driving and rise in transit ridership.

Transit use will certainly increase when a new, $17 million Rapid station is completed a few feet away from Intesa on Mayfield Road. Can the developers build a model to reduce parking that is based on the enlightened resident who chooses to live in a micro-suite and who is willing to negotiate for a break on their rent in exchange for one rather than two parking spaces?

The benefits of right sizing parking could translate into cost savings which could be passed along to tenants and result in more affordable living spaces in University Circle. Or it could be used to build up a custom space that appeals to a specific kind of tenant.

University Circle Transportation Plan lead consultant, David Fields, a principal at New York firm Nelson-Nygaard explains.

“Parking is a sunk cost. It means, you can’t build it and say, ‘no one is using it, so we won’t pay for it.’ Immediately it tacks on a cost.”

A common Transportation Demand Management (TDM) practice is to “de-couple” parking from the cost of the apartment lease, he adds, and allow the market to choose—do you want two, one or no parking spaces?—and discount the rent accordingly.

“So I have the cost of my unit and the cost of my parking, and if I don’t want my parking the developer will build as little as possible,” he explains.

After gathering input from the big institutions for a phase one parking study, Nelson-Nygaard determined that the district isn’t running out of parking spaces anytime soon. The Plan calls for tweaking parking policies—in revenue-neutral ways—to maximize the district’s existing inventory.



“With the multi-modal options and the significant parking supply available throughout the area, parking supply limitations are not a primary barrier to the general success and growth of businesses, institutions, housing developments, and employers in the University Circle area,” they conclude.

In other words, even as it grows as a destination and a home, what University Circle needs is a better wrap around of services for its parking.

With University Circle moving into the final leg of its study, pegging outcomes like better management of land and parking to a district in a hurry to build can prove thorny. It is worth taking stock in what works—as detailed in University Circle’s Parking Plan. Investments in future growth can then be aligned with community goals of being a premier walkable urban district where the innovators the healers and cultural creatives thrive in an environment that bring people and ideas together.

For those interested in sharing thoughts on this and other priorities for making University Circle a great, walkable district, UCI is holding a public meeting the evening of April 14 to present the initial findings of its Transportation and Mobility Plan. More details here.

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Mark Cassell
2 years ago

Reading about the massive number of new parking lots in University Circle makes me think that we've learned very little over the past four decades of urban sprawl in inner-city decay. The context for the new asphalt parks is of course the missed-opportunity corridor, the $300+ million dollar highway that's primarily designed to give those who work at The Clinic and University Circle an easier commute from their suburban enclaves. The amount of money wasted on these asphalt boondoggles is of course a tragedy. But what is really sad is that we've seen all of this before -- new developments built structured around the automobile and commuter. The construction jobs created in the short-term come at the expense of a liveable and vibrant community. University Circle and its trustees should know better.

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