This coming Tuesday night at 7:00 PM at Lansdale Borough Hall, there will be a public presentation of the updated Madison Parking Lot project that will include 170 apartments, 100 public parking spaces, a public plaza and a renovated Kugel Ball/Railroad Plaza. This is an immense project which will change downtown Lansdale, and it is important that the public attend. The Parking Authority which owns the Madison Parking Lot, will potentially make a motion to approve the concept plan as presented by Equus and authorize the Parking Authority to begin meetings on land development, planning commission, etc. While there are many steps ahead for Equus, a motion– if approved– effectively gets the ball rolling on the project.
I have expressed my concerns in an earlier blog in October 2015 titled the Madison Parking Lot, https://mayorszekely.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/madison-parking-lot/. Since then, Equus has changed the layout of the buildings a bit making for a more attractive public plaza, a much needed renovated Kugel Ball/Railroad Plaza and a more urban look to the facades of the apartment buildings themselves. To their credit, this is an improvement over their last proposal.
However, the concerns that I detailed in my previous blog still stand as the number of apartments is still the same at 170 and the number of public parking spaces is still the same at 100. Of course, the issue of parking rises to the forefront. “We want a parking problem” is the glib cliche that I have heard numerous times, but what exactly does that mean? “Parking is difficult in Ambler, Phoenixville, Doylestown and Philadelphia, but we go there and take the trouble find parking and then walk, in some cases, quite a distance to go to a restaurant or a show or for shopping.” Again, this is what I have heard time and again.
Now let’s look at this logically. We want Lansdale to become a destination. How does this happen? People need a reason to want to come to town and spend money; this is obvious. What’s the recipe? Restaurants primarily because people need to eat every day followed by entertainment and then shops that may sell jewelry, clothes, art, etc. which people purchase less frequently. Unfortunately, towns like Lansdale, Ambler and Phoenxiville need their surrounding townships and municipalities to help support their businesses. When questioning the recently opened Stove & Tap about their demographics, I was told that a significant majority of their patrons drive to Lansdale.
Now here’s the million dollar question: does adding 170 apartments and 17,500 square feet of retail space make Lansdale a destination? 170 apartments will equate to approximately 250-300 people which is helpful, but will that magically fill the retail space? Currently, there is 42,000 square feet of empty retail space on 300 block of Main Street alone (12,000 square feet in the old Woolworth’s building next to Stove & Tap, 5,000 square feet in the old PEAK Center, 22,000 square feet in 311 West Main Street and 3,000 square feet in the end building where Tabora Cafe used to be). So a total of 42,000 and 17,500 square feet makes 59,500 square feet of retail with 100 spaces.
And here’s the second million dollar question: if the 100 spaces are occupied, will patrons park in the SEPTA lot and then walk across the pedestrian bridge to the retail space in the Equus development or along Main Street? Also, keep in mind the SEPTA Lot will be occupied by commuters during the week (the potential for use of the SEPTA garage for Lansdale businesses is highest during the weekends).
If it is indeed true that additional restaurants and shops will need customers beyond Lansdale’s borders, then limiting EASY, ACCESSIBLE parking may be a problem especially for the property owners listed above whose potential businesses invariably will want that parking for their customers.
My advice for the Parking Authority is to take the time to digest thoroughly the presentation made by Equus. There is no need to take action on Tuesday night as the construction of the SEPTA garage has everything on hold anyway. (Plus, there was the sense from the meeting that I attended that this process has gone on too long with a lot of time and money spent, and a decision just needs to be made. A decision just for a decision’s sake is never good.)
Here are few other possibly relevant observations:
- As an example Station Square which has 250 apartments, which are 95% rented, also has retail space which is only 50% occupied.
- Lansdale may very well have two additional apartment complexes increasing the number of apartments by 200 possibly creating an increase in supply thus decreasing rents.
- While Doylestown is used as a comparison for parking issues, there is a lot more money in Doylestown which can be spent on restaurants and shops. An indicator is housing prices: Lansdale’s average home price is $210,000 and Doylestown’s average home price is $360,000.
- If a “parking problem” is a good thing to have, then why did SEPTA invest $25 million in creating a garage for an additional 300 spaces? And 175 spaces at the 9th Street Parking Lot? Because they wanted to ameliorate their parking problem. Think of it this way, SEPTA is taking care of their customers; they’re not saying, parking is going to be a problem, just drive around until you find a space. Lansdale should be thinking the same way when it comes to our guests who come to visit and support our businesses.
- Also keep in mind, the Borough of Lansdale is still turning the Madison Parking Lot over to Equus for $1. Since this most recent proposal is a far cry from the original, I would recommend that the Parking Authority consider putting the project out to bid again as I have heard that since a parking garage is no longer required, many different developers are now interested which would offer different plans and ideas for the lot. Please see what’s happening in Chalfont for their transit oriented development: http://articles.philly.com/2015-03-30/real_estate/60607022_1_j-g-petrucci-co-greg-rogerson-manayunk.
- And last but not least, as I mentioned in my previous blog about the Madison Parking Lot, let us not forget the successful events that occur there: Bike Night, the Farmers’ Market, the Beer Fest, staging for car shows, etc.