Parking garages: A high-maintenance asset for Manhattan and Lawrence

The Aggieville parking garage opened in January, 2023 and began charging drivers for parking. The rate is $2 per hour after the first two hours and payments are made on the park mobile app. (Elizabeth Sandstro | Collegian Media Group)

Aggieville’s paid parking system has been a topic of debate at city commission meetings and inspired viral petitions in the community. City commissioners said the fees were added to maintain the new parking garage. Brad Harrell, parking supervisor of Lawrence, said while this response may not be what residents want to hear, it is true for any city.

“The parking garage infrastructure and the cost of maintaining it and the maintenance associated with it is very, very high,” Harrell said. “So … all of the areas that do have actual revenue that comes in, all of that revenue, more or less, goes to just simply funding the parking operation and then trying to catch up on years of neglect and deferred maintenance.”

Manhattan’s five story, 453-stall parking garage replace the original 79-stall municipal parking lot. The new structure came with a price. It costs $2 per hour to park after the first two hours.

“I think a common misconception is that we are charging for parking to pay for the construction of the parking garage,” Adrienne Tucker, Manhattan parking services manager, said. “That’s not true. The construction of the parking garage was already paid for through the TIF, which is the tax incremental fund. What we are charging for parking is to pay for the maintenance of the parking garage. So, to keep it clean, to keep the lights on, maintenance, power washing and striping — all of it. You’re looking at around $500,000 a year just in maintenance cost to keep it going.”

Tucker said they must charge so the maintenance is not paid for through taxes. 

“My main goal has always been to not stick the maintenance bill for this garage onto the taxpayer and to make parking as affordable as humanly possible,” Tucker said. “We are not here to make a profit.”

Harrell said Lawrence’s garages were evaluated in 2017, and it was determined there was over $2.5 million owed in deferred maintenance. To combat that, its parking charges increased in 2021 from 50 cents per hour to $1.

“And our parking funds, especially at the rates of which we were in 2021, were grossly underfunding the maintenance cost of our parking garages and lots,” Harrell said. “I think in an ideal world, from our city council and city leadership, they really want the parking fund to be able to absorb all of those maintenance costs and maintain itself, if you will.”

Harrell said he hopes to hire a consultant for an evaluation of all parking operations to find out the anticipated cost for the maintenance.

“So we’re hoping that we can build a kiosk or get that rate structure created in 2024 and give us some long-term projections out of what we need to be charging for public parking in order to maintain the safety and security of our parking garages,” Harrell said. “Because right now we are in trying times. … That’s the hardest thing for municipalities to do, is to fund parking structures because it’s the most expensive to build and the most expensive to maintain.”

Tucker said the parking garage in downtown Manhattan has been neglected and is proof that paying for maintenance is necessary.

“The one downtown hasn’t been maintained much over the last 10 years,” Tucker said. “I just had the whole garage power washed. There was some mold remediation cleaning that was done and that cost $26,000. I had an architectural engineer come in and do an assessment of the garage, and there’s some repair work that needs to be done because it’s been neglected. … That’s going to cost another $800,000. Small sections need to be replaced, but when you don’t take care of infrastructure like a parking garage, it will fall apart and it does become a hazard to the community. So you want to make sure that you keep up on that maintenance.”

Tucker said the Aggieville parking garage has many benefits.

“We rarely fill up and people can know exactly where they’re going to park when they come to Aggieville,” Tucker said. “They’re not searching on the street looking for a spot well-lit. I have 64 security cameras around. … It’s safe. We keep it clean. You can leave your car here overnight without penalty, versus on the street where you can’t park from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. without getting a citation. You can park overnight here in the garage if you need to leave your vehicle here. We want to reduce drunk driving in Aggieville as much as possible. So we have that program in place so that people can leave their cars here.”

To park in the garage, drivers must download the Park Mobile app.

“Last time I used the garage I almost got a ticket because I didn’t download the app,” Andrew Carter, junior in management, said. “Since I was there for under two hours I thought I wouldn’t need to. But I got a warning ticket on my windshield, and I really did not understand that.”

For people confused on how to use the app, Tucker is hosting an open house event at the garage, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 4 to inform users. The event will also feature raffles to win one month of free parking and prizes from Aggieville businesses.