Liss: Land prices don’t justify cost of parking structure

san diego airport
This San Diego Airport parking garage, one of four options onsite, is probably a bit more than what is needed to accommodate visitors to downtown Moab. Photo courtesy of Alfred Twu/Wikimedia Commons

Moab businessman Michael Liss Tuesday lambasted the city’s plan to build a four-story parking structure west of Main Street, claiming that “people never build parking structures if the land prices don’t justify it.” During a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Dec. 17, Liss told business leaders, “Our land is still priced low enough to make surface parking cheaper than a parking structure. Even in the very center of downtown.”

Liss noted the Utah Department of Transportation has allocated $8.3 million toward the planned parking structure and business leaders Tuesday that it was the last day for submitting comments via a survey created by Kimley-Horn, a consulting firm hired by the city to lead project design.

The city has held a couple of public events to gather public feedback regarding the project, construction on which is slated to begin in about a year and be finished in late 2021. By initial estimations, the structure could accommodate between 200 to 350 vehicles. Another open house will be held in February.

Liss said parking structures are generally built only when “the underlying land values justify it.” He alluded to recent studies that show Moab has adequate parking available around town and other statistics that indicate people are “unwilling to walk more than 300 feet” from where they parked their vehicle.

The city has entered into a contract with UDOT to use up to $8.3 million for the structure. Liss said he asked to address the city council regarding the matter during its first meeting in January, at which he hopes to present a plan wherein the city would repurpose the money to buy smaller, dispersed parcels around town while holding on to the site slated for the parking structure.

“If the city could own the land and disperse the parking, the use of that land could evolve over time as our needs change,” Liss said.

Liss said he has developed a land acquisition strategy and budget and consulted with real estate agents to support his hunch that a parking structure may not be the most prudent use of public funds. As for the city’s contract with UDOT, Liss said the city would have to go back to UDOT to justify changing the current plan, going back on months of discussions that led to the allocation of funds for the parking structure.

According to preliminary mockups from Kimley-Horn, which produced an online survey to solicit input from the public, the planned parking structure would allow cars to enter and exit the structure from a proposed new four-way intersection at 100 West, Center Street and Williams Way.

The UDOT money is part of a larger, statewide initiative to mitigate the impacts of tourism in visitation hotspots. Last year, UDOT chose Moab and a handful of other areas to receive the funding, earmarking the funding at that time for a parking structure near Main Street.

Liss has had his eyes on transportation-related issues in the Moab area for years. When the National Park Service proposed a reservation system at Arches National Park, Liss helped lead a charge to block the plan, which is now moth balled.

Liss has also been working on developing alternative modes of transportation in and around Moab and helped found a transit committee to study the potential use of rail to get to Moab. He said that, in 2020, the group will investigate the potential of a bus system on Highway 191 that would link Lions Park to the Old Spanish Trail Arena with stops in between.