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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 21, 200612:00 PM EST

Expert says there's plenty of parking

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

When it comes to parking, Mark Rimmer knows garages and surface lots like Bob Carle, chief of Parking Facilites and Enforcement, knows parking meters.

President of Realistic Parking Alternatives Inc., Rimmer has ownership interest in three Downtown garages and manages several other garages and surface lots with a total inventory of more than 4,000 spaces.

He said that as much as everyone talks about there not being enough places to park Downtown, any time there is a special event or something people really have to do, it seems to all work out.

“When we have events like July 4th, the Florida-Georgia game and the boat parade, we’ll get thousands of people Downtown concentrated in a very small area and they all find a place to park,” said Rimmer. “The Florida Theatre sells out concerts all the time and they have no parking, but there is parking Downtown. We have a lot of banks and law offices that bring a lot of people Downtown every day and they find a place to park. If people want to get here, they will get here and they will figure it out.”

One factor in the perception of a parking shortage is where the parking facilities are located in terms of the urban environment, says Rimmer. People are used to walking the equivalent of a couple of city blocks to get from their car to the front door of a suburban shopping mall. But, with a tall building blocking the view between the parking place and the destination, the psychology changes.

“Parking is like anything,” said Rimmer. “Location is everything. Take Tinseltown for example. If the parking for Tinseltown was on the other side of Southside Boulevard, would it work? No, because you would have a natural barrier.”

He said the garage on Bay Street is a perfect example of the way people perceive parking.

“Within a couple of blocks of the Landing, at night and on the weekends, there are plenty of empty parking spaces, but you’ve got the Modis Building between it and the Jax Center garage,” said Rimmer. “Would we offer parking for the Landing? All day long, but people can’t see the Landing (from the garage). That’s like if you put Tinseltown’s parking on the other side of Southside Boulevard. It’s a barrier.”

Rimmer also said Downtown businesses and the type of workers they employ have changed and that, too, impacts parking.

“The Modis Building used to house the Independent Life Insurance Company, 1200 Riverplace used to house the Gulf Life Insurance Company, the Bank of America Tower used to house the Barnett Bank,” he said. “These were corporate headquarters buildings. They had huge offices. You might have an executive suite that was a whole floor with five or 10 people on it. Now those same floors have 300 people on them. There has been a total shift in the user base Downtown. Now the focus is on high-density commercial.”

Rimmer added that commercial real estate brokers also face parking challenges when they are trying to lease space to new tenants. New businesses bring more workers Downtown and the employees can’t park at the meters all day without getting tickets.

“We’ve got a lot of long-term parking available but – and this is a big but – the vast majority is only available short-term,” said Rimmer. “We don’t have enough parking spaces available that can be tied to a lease. If you’re trying to bring a 20,000 square-foot tenant Downtown and they want a five-year lease with two five-year options on it, then you have to provide them at least 50 parking spaces for five years with two five-year options. Rate is not typically the issue, it’s the term and that’s what we don’t have.”

He added that he believes parking will always be an issue.

“There is no silver bullet or easy answer,” said Rimmer. “Whatever answer you come up with today will have to change as the demographics of Downtown merchants and businesses change.”

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