It's time to take action on the parking crunch Downtown Baltimore: Shortage of spaces promises to get worse as rentals in older offices strengthen.

August 28, 1998

THE GOOD NEWS is that several older buildings north of Baltimore Street have recently changed hands. Their new owners are betting on good economic times that increase demand for less-expensive downtown office rentals.

The bad news is that as those currently vacant offices are leased, the serious shortage of parking downtown will grow.

Parking has never been as tight -- or as expensive -- as it is this summer. Good weather and new attractions are luring record numbers of tourists to the Inner Harbor. At peak hours, many parking garages are full.

The situation promises to get worse. When construction of a 28-story office and hotel complex begins at 300 E. Pratt St., a surface parking lot will be lost. The new building will have only 200 parking spaces in its underground garage. Another surface lot, next to the Convention Center, will be lost when construction of the planned Grand Hyatt hotel starts.

The Downtown Partnership, which is calling for the construction of 1,500 new spaces in the central business district in the next five years, thinks the parking situation is already critical. It says Baltimore lost 600 prospective jobs last year because of problems associated with parking downtown.

Michael Rice, a Department of Public Works employee who was recently appointed to coordinate the city's parking efforts, takes a more sanguine view. "I don't see it as a difficult situation," he said. "I see it as a challenge... ."

Convenient and affordable parking contribute to a community's ability to compete for business. Ours is a car-dependent society and people do not easilychange their habits. Mass transit and satellite parking play an important role in abating downtown congestion, but they are no substitute for the parking spaces employees and visitors crave.

Within the next few weeks, a new advisory committee will be convened to look at Baltimore's parking dilemma. It should not waste time studying the obvious. Instead it ought to concentrate on quickly fixing what is rapidly becoming a nightmarish parking crunch.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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