In part two of my interview (read part one here) with Robert Stark, president and CEO of Stark Enterprises, a developer of mixed-use lifestyle destinations in Cleveland, Ohio, we discuss specific ideas for ridding downtowns of the parking lots that sap their vitality:
What can cities do to redevelop vacant lots?
A lot of cities in this country suffer from parking lot blight: oceans of surface parking. When America became an automobile world, so many wonderful buildings and neighborhoods were torn down and replaced — as Joni Mitchell said — by parking lots. We haven’t been able to get rid of them because the value to the landowners of keeping them as parking is greater than anything else.
The only way we’re going to change that is by demonstrating and unlocking the greater economic potential of going vertical with those spaces. I propose that cities should consider an incentive program for people who convert parking lots into vertical development. Vertical, structured parking has its advantages, except that it’s expensive. To make up for the extra expense, a city could allow people to build a certain amount of extra spaces, then take the parking tax on the new spaces and TIF it. That could become an amazing catalyst for development across the country.
Some communities have similar incentives for converting brownfield sites. Well, parking lots are brownfield sites, as far as I’m concerned. In some respects they may be even worse than brownfields, as killers of progress. The city, the state, the federal government, the EPA — whoever — can easily spur redevelopment using existing remediation incentives.
In order to change America, you have to have public participation. The question is how to do it in a way that doesn’t pull existing dollars and cents out of the general fund. These two options — either tax-increment financing or funding for brownfield remediation — could be powerfully efficient incentives.
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