Upper Levels of Parking Garage

The proposed Campus Advantage housing project at the State Street Triangle has been the subject of much expressed concern among Ithacans as it concerns downtown parking. 

Talking points from Campus Advantage representatives to assuage those worries have focused on the Triangle’s transit access, plans to encourage the use of Ithaca CarShare, the possibility some car owners will park at remote lots since they only need their ride to occasionally get out of town, and the amount of space available in downtown parking garages. 

“How much room is really in the parking garages?” people ask in public meetings, with some offering days and times they say they can’t find parking. 

Since the Downtown Ithaca Alliance meeting on Sept. 21, the developers have been sharing parking availability numbers in downtown garages that have been provided by the city. After additional spots allocated to new projects in process—including an estimated figure of 248 new cars for the 582 beds currently proposed in the Triangle—the Green Street garage is estimated to have the tightest fit, with 24 spots available during peak daytime hours after all the construction is complete. 

The parking averages are based on daily counts of spots by garage staffers, says Frank Nagy, the city’s parking director. 

Since every Ithaca city employee has a Cayuga Street pass even if they rarely park downtown, “there’s so much crap in our data” that the hand counting of spots is necessary. 

“People say my data’s flawed. My data’s not flawed, there’s nothing wrong with my data,” Nagy said. “The only way my data can be flawed is if my people count two cars there instead of one.” 

The Campus Advantage assumption that their residents will bring 248 cars is “way high,” Nagy said, when one looks at the Collegetown parking survey that found about 19 percent of students bring cars. 

“We told them that and they said ‘Yeah, we know, everybody is telling us there’s not enough parking, so we want to go high with the numbers,’” Nagy said. 

The current estimates put 148 cars from the Triangle in the Cayuga Street garage, where the city is “trying to pack as much in as possible” because it has the lowest occupancy rates, Nagy says. The Marriott is expected to add 14 cars during the day to the Green Street garage and 144 at night. The Hilton Canopy is earmarked for 12 cars daytime and 123 at Seneca Street overnight. The Finger Lakes School of Massage project is estimated to add 45 daytime parkers at Green, and 129 of the 160 new parkers estimated for Tompkins Trust’s new headquarters are slotted for workday parking in the Cayuga garage. The Lofts @ Six Mile Creek and Harold Square, in total, are expected to add 118 daytime parkers to downtown, with more overnight. 

If all of that development goes through, this particular spreadsheet says that peak daytime occupancy will leave 20 spots available in the three downtown garages, of 1,520 spots in total. That number is reached by adding 395 potential parkers to Cayuga Street, putting it in the red from its 342 estimated spots. 

Whether all those projects happen or not, Nagy isn’t concerned about overcrowding. A parking industry standard is that about 80 percent of monthly parkers show up. And anyway, the garages are nowhere close to the 85 percent occupancy rate that the parking director says will make them financially self-sustaining. Nagy’s numbers from counts made in March through July of this year put daytime occupancy rates in Green Street between 59 and 65 percent; in Seneca Street between 58 and 89 percent, and in Cayuga, which is privately managed by Allpro parking, at 50 percent for every month. 

Seneca Street is only showing 89 percent occupancy in June and 85 percent in July, Nagy says, because of spots lost to construction there. 

“I want to see enough revenue from parking to pay our expenses and put money aside to rebuild the Seneca Street garage,” Nagy said, with a future goal of becoming a parking authority. Then, monies can be saved for future infrastructure investments rather than going back into the city’s general fund. 

The parking garage collapse in July in Johnson City has been referenced by a few concerned citizens. So far as the health of Ithaca’s garages go, Nagy said people should wait for the results of an engineering assessment expected to come out in October. 

“In Seneca, with the repairs that have been done, we might have 10 more years if everything goes well,” Nagy said. “At Green Street, depending what comes back from this assessment we may have to lose two ends and build up the middle.” 

Tompkins Trust will be leaving its space under the Green Street garage, so the assessment is timely. 

“If that lease runs out down below and nobody is occupying that space, that’s when you want to do that construction,” Nagy said. 

One potential addition to the city’s parking needs that was not included in the numbers under discussion is a conference center. The New York Times reported in a Sept. 1 real estate section piece on the new Commons that Donald Urgo Sr. of Urgo Hotels—which is building the downtown Marriott—is “on the hunt” for a conference center site. 

For his part, David Hart says that his company “still has a vision for a conference center” along Clinton Street attached to the Hotel Ithaca. Plans have been approved in the past for a conference center on the north side of the former Holiday Inn tower, but plans have changed to put a five-story addition there after renovations on their tower and balcony rooms last year. Hart will be before the planning board in October for approvals to that five-story mid-rise addition with new drawings, after the board critiqued his design at the September meeting. 

After two phases and about 15 months of construction, Hart said he will “digest what we’ve accomplished and look at the lay of the land and see if a conference center is still needed.” •

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