City Council supports study into new multi-level downtown parking structure

Differing opinions emerge on how to improve downtown parking

City Council supports study into new multi-level downtown parking structure
Parking consultants found highest demand for on-street parking down State Street. (Photo: Community Forward Redlands)

REDLANDS, Calif. – With new development on the horizon in Downtown Redlands, the city is grappling with how to improve parking on State Street and the surrounding Downtown core.

Over the past seven years, the city has conducted two parking studies: one completed by city staff in 2017 to coincide with the 2035 General Plan, and another in 2023 when the city hired Irvine-based Walker Consultants. The city has also gathered feedback from various stakeholders, including the Traffic and Parking Commission (TPC) and local businesses represented by the Redlands Chamber of Commerce.

While there is agreement that Downtown Redlands' parking infrastructure needs accessibility and safety improvements, there are differing priorities and recommendations for solutions.

At a special meeting on Jan. 31, the City Council directed city staff to explore new strategies based on recommendations from the 2023 Downtown Redlands Parking Study, TPC, and the Chamber of Commerce.

Improving existing parking 

Areas of agreement include improving the use and management of existing parking spaces and facilities near State Street. The 2023 study found exceptionally high demand for on-street parking around State Street compared to the surrounding lots and parking structures. All three groups recommend enforcing parking limits and improving safety and lighting at existing parking facilities.

The City Council agreed to explore both increased parking enforcement of timed parking zones and security and lighting improvements at the Citrus Avenue parking garage and Centennial Plaza underground parking.

The Council also voted to move forward with efforts underway to lease the San Bernardino County Transit Authority parking lot at 7th Street by the railroad tracks. City staff estimate it would cost about $600,000 to make 130 parking spots available. This lot is expected to help alleviate parking pressure during the construction of new downtown developments.

Increasing parking supply

While there is general agreement to improve the existing parking supply near State Street, there are differences in the type and amount of new parking needed. At the center of the debate is the question of building a mixed-used parking facility at the current city hall location on Cajon Street. 

Support for the parking structure

The Redlands Chamber of Commerce supports a feasibility study into the development of a new multi-story parking facility.

Evan Sanford, executive director of the Redlands Chamber of Commerce, shared with City Council concerns from local business owners about the impact of new development on the amount of parking available Downtown. He also emphasized the need for a plan for when the Redlands Mall parking lot is no longer available during construction on State Street Village. 

The Chamber has championed the idea of redeveloping the current city hall building into a parking structure surrounded by retail and commercial space once the new civic center opens on State Street. In one proposal offered by the Chamber, the mixed-use structure would have the capacity for 1,000-2,000 parking spaces, spanning five stories - two underground and three above-ground levels.

Sanford acknowledged a parking development of this size would cost an estimated $50-60 million dollars but considers it a "once-in-a-generation investment in the community."

At the Jan. 31 meeting, Sanford advocated on behalf of the Chamber for a feasibility study into the proposed development to understand the cost and scope of the project. While noting that the city should not be expected to foot the entire bill for the new development, he emphasized the importance of the study. 

"The single most important thing that you can do tonight is to be very clear in your support for a feasibility study to redevelop the current city hall complex and, in our opinion, the Citrus Avenue structure into a multilevel, mixed-use commercial and parking facility," said Sanford.

Opposition to new parking structure

Parking consultants and the TPC were reluctant to recommend constructing an additional parking structure to increase the parking supply near State Street.

During a Dec. 5 presentation before the City Council, Steffen Turoff, principal of Walker Consultants Inc., cautioned the city to consider this option carefully. Turoff, whose firm designs parking structures, warned that parking facilities are expensive to build, challenging to maintain, and often go unused.

"Seeing all the surface spaces you have, it was difficult in good faith to say, 'you need to build a parking structure right now' and then look at all the available spots," said Turoff.

The study authors determined that about half of all existing parking spots in the Downtown Redlands core go unused during peak hours. When determining parking demand, the study considered only occupied spaces at the mall. The reason given was that the State Street Village project will eventually replace all available spaces, according to study authors. Approved by the City Council in May 2022, the project will feature a five-level above-ground parking structure and two subterranean parking garages. The additional 1,326 spots will be built alongside 700 apartment units.

Turoff said if demand increases and a lack of available parking begins to impact the viability of Downtown Redlands, a new parking structure may be something to consider in the future.

Due to cost concerns, the TPC opposed a feasibility study into a new downtown parking structure. Instead, the Commission recommended a study into "restriping" Citrus Avenue to add about 30 new parking spots near State Street. 

The TPC also emphasized Walker Consultants' recommendations to improve the pedestrian experience by improving shade and biking infrastructure. Public comments during the Jan. 31 meeting expressed concerns over pedestrian safety. "We know this all too well in Redlands, as parking already consumes more of our downtown land than any other use. So it is clear that in order for our downtown to continue to grow and thrive, we must make it easier for people to walk, bike, and take public transit," said one public commentator.

The parking consultant and TPC also recommended exploring shared-use agreements and lease agreements with private property owners to increase parking availability during peak demand periods.

In response to these discussions, the City Council unanimously agreed to pursue a feasibility study into the redevelopment of the existing City Hall site into a multi-level parking structure with a possible mix of commercial, retail, and housing. 

Downtown Shuttle 

The City Council also voted to explore implementing a shuttle service around downtown Redlands. The proposed shuttle would operate from downtown parking areas to State Street. City staff estimated the cost at $482,000 per year for three golf cart-style shuttles, each accommodating up to five passengers and running five days a week. The two parking areas discussed at Wednesday's meeting are about a 5-minute walk from State Street. The City Council also discussed the possibility of an event-based shuttle service.

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