ITHACA, N.Y. — Downtown Ithaca has seen a bevy of new projects approved in the past couple of years, with more in the pipeline. With projects ranging from apartments to hotels to a new bank headquarters, one question has remained the same – where are they all going to park?

[do_widget id= text-55 ]

It’s a question the city hasn’t taken lightly. City staff have compiled a parking capacity analysis for discussion. The document is included as part of Tuesday’s Planning Board agenda materials.

Looking through the list of projects included in the capacity analysis, it appears to be a what’s-what of every announced project for the downtown core, whether already construction (Marriott, Tompkins Financial’s HQ, Fingerlakes School of Massage’s move to the Commons), approved and awaiting construction (Harold’s Square), or still in the proposal stages (State Street Triangle).

So, let’s look at the numbers. There are three garages downtown – the Green Street Garage, the Seneca Street Garage, and the Cayuga Street Garage.

The numbers break them down into average use during the day, and average use during the evening. Different building uses have different needs – most offices are occupied during the day, most apartments during the evening.

Here are the current usage numbers. The methodology isn’t described in the document, but in a phone call, city parking director Frank Nagy said the current occupancy rates were determined by parking garage counts done MondayFriday at 10 AM, 2 PM, 6 PM and 10 PM, from March through July of this year (five months). No counts were done on the weekend because weekend parking isn’t an issue.

Now come the addition of the new projects in the pipeline. Certain assumptions have been made in the parking “formula”. For example, it’s assumed the new hotels are 100% occupied – typical occupancy is about 50% during the winter and upwards of 80% in summer. Planning for 100% occupancy is going the prudent, careful route. (Side note – for some unknown reason, they have the Marriott as having only 144 rooms instead of 159.)

Other spaces, such as the number of parking spaces per apartment, office or store (measured per 1,000 SF and by type of office/store), are based on values pulled from theInstitute for Transportation Engineers’ Trip Generation Manual.

“These are general guidelines,” stressed city of Ithaca Senior Planner Lisa Nicholas. “There could be a lot more slicing and dicing of the numbers, such as weekends vs. weekdays.”

“We haven’t agreed on an optimal capacity [for the garages], but it looks like we will pretty close to capacity. So we’re asking applicants to submit Transportation Demand Management Plans (TDMPs) to help manage parking demand.”

TDMPs have previously been used with Collegetown projects to explain how buildings in the inner zones would manage the needs of their residents if they chose to exclude parking. Cornell also uses them to oversee its parking strategy. Typical features include bus passes, car-share enrollment, and bike racks, features included as a way to reduce dependence on a tenant’s personal vehicle.

Even with the TDMPs, it’s clear that under the scenario presented here, that downtown’s daytime parking space would be close to fully tapped out during the day. That bears significant weight on future development plans should they come forward.

According to Nagy, full parking garages are a good thing for the city’s budget.

“The industry standard is 85% occupancy. If you’re not making 85%, you’re not covering your expenses. The garages have been subsidized for over 20 years at a cost of $2 million per year. In the two years that I’ve been here, we’ve increased revenue $500,000 [per year], but we have $1.5 million to go,” said Nagy.

“We don’t want to raise prices, so we want to increase utilization. For short-term parkers and shoppers, there’s still on-street parking, and we have a deal with the hotel [Hilton Garden Inn] to let short-term parkers use their 100 reserved spaces in the Seneca garage during the day from 8 AM – 3 PM. But we want long-term parkers to pay for parking. We’re striving for compliance instead of giving out tickets.”

[do_widget id= text-61 ]

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at