June 14 was a big day in Downtown Annapolis, as it marked the debut of the new $28 million Noah Hillman Parking Garage. And from most indications, boosters of the green movement, including visitors, workers and residents, will love the final product.
For starters, it will encompass 590 spaces, as opposed to the demolished 465-space garage; it features gateless entry and exit from Gorman and Duke of Gloucester streets; payments via the Park Mobile app; greater ADA accessibility; two stormwater controls to keep contaminated water from spilling into Ego Alley; nine EV charging stations; and 594 solar panels on the roof that will generate 281 kilowatt-hours. That’s enough for all connected loads for the garage.
Want more? Then note the bicycle racks; increased lighting for public safety; and space counter indicators. It even has two elevators and public restrooms.
While that all sounds rather grandiose for a parking garage with rates starting at $3 per hour, know that it was completed in just 13 months and marks the midpoint of the route to a bigger project: the redevelopment of the City Dock, which will require the permanent removal of some parking.
The project was built ― with no city money or bonds ― by a public-private partnership called Annapolis Mobility and Resilience Partners. It included Whiting-Turner, BCT and Premier Parking, which will operate the garage for 30 years.
“The partnership gave us a plan,” said City Manager Mike Mallinoff. “They also gave us a roughly $25 million concession payment, which we’re putting toward the $50 million rebuild of City Dock.”
Much of the green approach for the garage comes from a predevelopment agreement that afforded the parties “the ability to defend the scope of, and optimize, the project for the city,” said Eivind Dueland, senior vice president for New York-based Amber Infrastructure, the developer of both projects.
“For instance, we garnered considerable feedback from the various stakeholders about stormwater management, lighting pollution and the solar array, the installation of which was not a given in the Historic District,” said Dueland. “The framing of the project required the evaluation of required colors, sizes and materials.”
While it’s impressive to list the bullet points about the design, “the main improvement was greater efficiency, which is an undervalued aspect of such projects,” he said, “but it’s crucial, because right sizing reduces overall greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions.”
As for the nine EV charging stations, that number may rise as high as 200 as demand increases. Also, using the Park Mobile app will reduce the need for users to waste gas looking for a space.
All told, the new garage offers flexibility concerning the city’s approach to its parking needs. “Simply having the garage open will minimize disruption,” said Dueland, noting that the construction of the City Dock is hoped to begin in early 2024.
Another angle of the new Hillman project, which is being operated under a concession agreement with the Maryland Economic Development Corp., is that it was built with eyes cast toward versatility. For instance, the top floor was used during the grand opening as an event space and there are also areas for pop-up kiosks.
“There’s only so much you can do with a garage,” said Dueland, “but we wanted to offer flexibility, given what we intend as a 50-year life span. In the end that wasn’t hard, given the level of collaboration between the parties involved.
“There are always competing demands,” he said, “but we balanced them out.”
While the building of the garage made for some trying times, “We all survived,” said Erik Evans, executive director of the Downtown Annapolis Partnership, “but know that there are normally extra parking spaces available at all of the city’s garages.”
And therein, in the eyes of some observers, lies the real issue.
“This is really a perception problem because everyone wants to park at the front door,” said Evans. “But people can also park at the Knighton, Gott’s, Whitmore and Calvert Street garages, which are all government-owned; or at the private garages at Park Place, Amos Garrett Boulevard, The Graduate Hotel and 60 West.
“Relatively speaking, they’re all affordable, too,” he said. “Dealing with the construction has a been a pain the neck, and we know that some people stayed away. Still, there are always new people coming to town.”
Especially now. “I absolutely think more people are coming Downtown today and will like the green aspects of the new garage,” he said, noting that the Park, Shop & Dine program will remain, as will free street parking during the holiday season. Also, city residents will still get two free hours in the Hillman Garage.
Moving forward, the local business community is glad to have those “perception” issues of the past 13 months whisked into the past.
“Any additional parking inventory Downtown is welcome,” said Steve Samaris, owner of Zachary’s Jewelers and a 40-year veteran of the Downtown market who knows that drawing shoppers downtown can be tough in the retail shadow of the vast offerings of Parole. He agreed with Evans that the past 13 months “have been challenging,” but June 14 marked a new beginning.
“I think that feeling will reverse itself,” said Samaris, “especially with the variety of shops and businesses we offer Downtown, with new restaurants like The Choptank, Acqua Al 2 and The Parley Room. There are some cool things happening down here.”
That said, the usual parking options will continue to be key to visitors and local workers solving the Downtown parking puzzle.
“My 10 employees park at Park Place and take the free shuttle to our store,” which is at the corner of Main Street and Market Space. “I have a space at Gott’s,” he said, “as do city employees who don’t need their cars for work. Those who do can park at Hillman.”
With the first big domino fallen, it’s time for the next step at the City Dock. “There’s more to do, but do know,” said Samaris, “that the Mayor [Gavin] Buckley is a businessperson and he understands the need for better transportation.”