Oklahoma City’s downtown parking system is running at 95 percent occupancy and property managers are being advised more parking can’t be guaranteed for any new companies that might relocate to the central business district.
At the same time, the city was given a 30-day notice Monday by the state Transportation Department to vacate a parking lot under the old Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway that is used to fulfill a contract with the Thunder to provide 350 spaces for suite holders at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Debi Holtzclaw, parking manager with the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, said her office is working with downtown property managers and city officials to find alternate locations, while also preparing to expand one garage and build at least two new garages.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been in this situation,” Holtzclaw said. “We’ve always begged for people to park with us. This is new to us. Oklahoma City is in a growth spurt.”
The parking shortage is occurring despite the doubling of the former City Center West Garage to 2,500 spaces and the relocation of the vast majority of Devon Energy employees to that structure.
The spaces vacated by Devon’s employees, mostly at the Santa Fe garage, already are being filled by two corporate headquarters moving downtown this spring — Continental Resources and Enogex.
Each company has been promised 450 spaces, which prompted the garage operator, Republic Parking, to advise managers at the 101 Park Avenue building, First National Center and Chase Tower that no monthly passes would be available for the foreseeable future. Holtzclaw said she is releasing small numbers of monthly parking passes to those property managers. The operator added the system is unable to accommodate larger requests should any more companies hope to relocate downtown.
As of late last week, Holtzclaw hoped demolition of the Crosstown bridge south of the arena could be delayed until after the Thunder’s season is over.
Gary Evans, chief engineer and deputy director at the Transportation Department, said talks are under way with the contractors who were awarded the bid for the bridge demolition about whether the city can use the lots beyond March 31. He said he suspects demolition will begin in late March, and too many unknowns prevent him from immediately extending the city’s use of the lots under the old highway bridge.
City officials said they have no quick and easy solutions. One option being considered is whether the city can speed up purchase of the old Bob Howard Ford Dealership south of the Myriad Gardens, where existing parking could be used temporarily to meet the Thunder suite holder obligation.
Holtzclaw said her office might convert daily and hourly parking to monthly parking at the Santa Fe garage, but that would displace large “transient” groups, including the downtown Rotary, that depend on that parking on a weekly basis. The elimination of daily and hourly parking also would coincide with the loss of hundreds of curbside spaces because of Project 180 street reconstruction. Spaces on completed streets, meanwhile, are not yet metered and are frequently taken up by construction workers.
The city also has fewer garages in its system because of the sale of the City Center West Garage to Devon Energy, the City Center East Garage to owners of Leadership Square, Corporate, Oklahoma and City Place towers, and the Broadway-Kerr Garage to SandRidge Energy.
The Century Center Garage at Robinson and Sheridan avenues may offer the most immediate opportunity for expansion. Holtzclaw said engineers are looking at adding two stories to the public garage, a move that would provide an additional 350 spaces, but work couldn’t begin for months.
Cathy O’Connor, president of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, said planning is under way to build a new 500-car garage in a city-owned surface lot immediately south of City Hall between Colcord Drive and Main Street.
But, O’Connor warns the new garage is still 18 months to two years away from becoming a reality. A second city garage might also be built on the city-owned Memorial parking lot at NW 5 and Robinson Avenue.
O’Connor and Holtzclaw both admit the next couple of years will not be easy; Continental Resources is expected to continue growing beyond the 450 workers set to move into the current home of Devon Energy at 20 N Broadway.
Owners of First National Center and Chase Tower both hope to fill large blocks of space being vacated by Devon Energy employees moving into the new headquarters at 333 W Sheridan Ave. beginning next month.
“Having a parking problem is a good problem to have,” O’Connor said. “It means good things are happening. But it’s something we have to get in front of — we need to build more parking.”