Center Street garage slated for demolition, expansion

The Center Street garage is slated for reconstruction. Image: Google Maps

The Center Street garage in downtown Berkeley is slated for reconstruction. Image: Google Maps

Parking in downtown Berkeley may get harder before it gets easier as a new project ramps up to demolish and rebuild the Center Street garage to add hundreds of spaces, improve seismic security and incorporate “green building” standards.

The project is expected to strain parking demand downtown, where availability is often scarce already. City staff have been working to improve the parking situation via its goBerkeley campaign, which has been underway this year. Merchants have been keeping a close eye on the Center Street project and say they hope the city will be thoughtful as it moves ahead.

The five-story Center Street parking garage — which has entrances on both Addison and Center streets — has 420 spaces, ground floor retail and was built in the 1950s, according to the staff report prepared for last week’s Berkeley City Council meeting. Tuesday night, as part of the consent calendar, the Council approved paying up to $1 million to a consultant who will plan and manage the project. 

If money is available, according to the staff report, the city would like to build in “additional elements of first floor commercial space” on Center and Addison, as well as secure bike parking, office space for parking staff and public art.

The new structure is anticipated to have space for 690 vehicles, with a height limit of 67 feet. (The height of the current garage was not available as of publication time.) The city would strive for LEED Silver certification for the structure.

“The actual number of parking spaces will depend on the project Financial Plan and Operational planning, which will include the estimated parking demand, queuing analysis, partnership agreements, and construction cost estimates,” according to the staff report. “The City has carried out numerous studies of parking in the area and developed conceptual site plans. All relevant background documents will be provided to the selected firm or team.”

According to the staff report, the contract was awarded to San Francisco-based Conversion Management Associates, Inc. for $1 million from Dec. 1, 2013, through December 2018. In August, the city requested applications from those hoping to oversee the project, and selected Conversion Management through a competitive process that drew bids from five applicants.

The company has “developed many complex projects in the region, including parking garages with multiple public and non-profit stakeholders. The team includes qualified land use attorneys, fiscal analysts, project managers, parking architects and designers, and several area-specific engineering firms,” according to the staff report.

City employees have the expertise to oversee the project, wrote staff, but that would drain municipal resources and “delay or defer other work plan priorities.”

Money for the project will come from the Off Street Parking Fund, with $350,000 this fiscal year and $650,000 in fiscal year 2015.

According to the city’s request seeking applicants to handle the project, “The City has developed several designs and construction cost estimates for the site, including different structure heights, with and without subterranean parking, and with varying amounts of ground floor commercial space.”

The city has also asked the consultant to come up with a plan to handle parking demand while the garage is inaccessible.

According to the city, three “major institutions” – UC Berkeley, Peralta Community College District/Berkeley City College and the YMCA – “have stated their interest in investing or entering into a long-term customer agreement to enable construction of a parking structure that will provide their institutions with parking. The City has met with each group and developed a preliminary parking demand assessment based on data they provided about current usage.”

John Caner, who runs the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the challenge will be to complete the project quickly and efficiently, particularly as the city has already lost parking spaces due to projects like Cal’s new aquatics center.

“We’re having increasing demand for parking services in downtown,” he said. “It’s going to be painful and difficult during the transition.”

Caner said he hopes the city will think carefully about coordinating with other municipal projects, such as its proposal to convert its Berkeley Way parking lot into supportive homeless housing.

Susie Medak, managing director at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, concurred. She said there’s “huge” demand for convenient parking downtown, which is only expected to grow with plans for a new 1,200-seat performance space that’s been proposed on University Avenue.

Medak said that, as the city has put effort into reviving its downtown arts district, parking has become increasingly slim. It’s not uncommon for theater-goers — many of whom drive to Berkeley from other cities around the region — to miss the beginning of shows due to hold-ups in line to access the parking garage on Center, or find it full upon arrival, she said.

“This is a real a problem that we’ve seen coming at us since the mid-90s,” said Medak. “I feel like I’ve been Cassandra wailing about this for 15 years, almost 20 years, now.”

Medak described the city’s policies as “in conflict” with themselves, with a push to limit cars downtown while demand continues to grow.

“We’ve been living in denial as a city,” she said. “There’s the conflict between our desire to bring in tourism and entertainment dollars, and our desire to reduce automobile traffic and services. It’s a perfect storm waiting to happen.”

Medak said she hopes the city will consider perhaps adding another entrance to the garage, via Milvia Street, to improve problems with congestion, or to construct more parking venues around downtown to ease demand. The university, too, should take more responsibility for its parking needs, she added.

“To make this work is going to require really unusual, fresh, imaginative thinking,” she said. “And that’s not the way most people think about parking lots.”

City parking garage fees up downtown, down on Telegraph (10.30.13)
Many Berkeley parking meters now accept most coins (10.23.13)
Metered parking changes launch Tuesday in Berkeley (10.15.13)
Berkeley considers ‘visionary’ homeless housing project (09.11.13)
goBerkeley parking rules get final public review (for now) (08.08.13)
2 goBerkeley public meetings on parking coming up (07.31.13)
Details unveiled on proposed metered parking changes (07.03.13)
City sets goBerkeley transportation program in motion (06.27.13)
Berkeley council weighs in on parking pilot program (06.12.13)
Parking changes slated for 3 Berkeley business zones (05.23.13)

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  • guest

    Is this necessary for seismic safety? If not, it seems like an extraordinarily expensive proposal for a marginal addition of parking spaces. Why not look at a site where every new space adds to the overall inventory? Like the existing surface parking lot on Berkeley Way? Or the northside of the Golden Bear Bldg lot, just west of the Berkeley Way surface parking lot? It would be interesting to know what the projected cost per net new additional space will be to replace and expand the existing garage. I’d guess it will be jaw-dropping. This seems like a giant waste of money.

  • Save The Center Street Garage!

    Someone call BAHA! This is a travesty!


  • BBnet3000

    Id rather they put parking further from Center and Shattuck, where there is a ton of foot traffic brought in by mass transit already.

  • serkes

    Golly – while not as nifty as the Autoport, I’ve always admired the design, stairwell and neon sign. Time to break out the camera.

    Buffums’ Autoport


  • Charles_Siegel

    “plans for a new 1,200-seat performance space that’s been proposed on University Avenue.”

    Is this the same proposal for the old UC theater that has been languishing for decades? Or is there some new proposal?

  • Maths

    64% increase in spaces is a lot more than a “marginal” increase.

  • serkes

    Good point about the incremental cost per spot.

    Seems like a taller garage would have a impact on the west facing windows of the residential complex to the east.


  • emraguso

    Same one. We’ll have the story ASAP — but available details have been scant.

  • AlanTobey

    The current garage is indeed very seismically unsafe, so the new safer replacement has really been overdue.

  • Bill N

    Yep, a classic 1950’s structure! Though I do hope they save the sign!

  • Bill N

    This would be wonderful for Berkeley and Univ Ave – IF they get it done.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Medak said she hopes the city will consider perhaps adding another
    entrance to the garage, via Milvia Street, to improve problems with

    Milvia Street is designated as a bicycle boulevard, and channeling more cars there would be dangerous for bicyclists. Cars that are queued up on Milvia could also block bikes completely, since the roadway is narrow.

    However, I would support adding an entrance to this garage on Milvia **IF** there were also improvements for bikes on Milvia, to mitigate the impact of the new garage entrance.

    The most obvious improvement would be to remove parking from one side of Milvia and stripe bike lanes, as specified in the SOSIP. I believe that would involve removing 11 parking spaces, which shouldn’t be too great a hardship, considering that the garage is adding 269 spaces. This would be absolutely necessary to prevent queued cars from blocking bikes entirely.

    The bike plan also has list of potential improvements for Milvia, and we could implement some of them also.

  • Tizzielish

    I know nothing about seismic safety but one look at that building, not to mention ever being in it as I have, and it is obvious the building is outdated and could not possibly be even remotely seismically safe. No one built for seismic safety when it was built, for one thing, plus the whole thing has an air of being ready to fall down.

    It will be painful to lose the parking in the interim. Is it possible for the city to expedite ths project, factoring in all the competing needs? Just wondering, don’t know.

  • Tizzielish

    Yeah, I chafed when I read about the orgs who are angling to get priority parking in the building. . unless they pay a big premium for priority for their orgs, it should be open to any public person wishing to park.

  • Tizzielish

    For evening events downtown, why not have a good publicity/marketing campaign to encourage folks trekking to downtown for the arts district to near Ashby or N. Berkeley BART stations and BART downtown? And why can’t folks coming from any cities located on any BART lines not just take BART downtown, go to the theater, park at their home BART. They don’t all have to drive to go to a show in Berkeley.

    Berkeley should invest some in campaigning for blending public transit with trips to Berkeley.

    I occasionally meet folks on BART who live in SF who would never consider driving to Berkreley to go to Berkeley REp but these people go to all the shows at Berk Rep and often Aurora, too.

    I hope we see more and more use of public transit.

    Dare we ask AC Transit to arrange some kind of shuttle? Or ask the city of Berkeley to come up with some shuttle services similar to the emeryville goaround? Where can folks drive to Berkreley, park and with free and frequent shuttle service, get downtown? Such an approach could actually benefit small businesses located near the parking if done right.

    Maybe? So many people only seem to think in terms of driving cars. Not having owned a car since 2003, I don’t ever think in terms of car travel and guess what? I get anywhere I ever want to go. If I can do it, so can others. Of course its easy for me to get to places in Berkeley, since I live here, but there are great venues all over the Bay Area that I go to and I go on public transit.

  • Pro-Shuttle

    Shuttle services would be great. Maybe a park-and-ride lot near the freeway with a shuttle going to all the major downtown locations?

  • guest

    What would happen to our beloved Tsunami Dogs?

  • guest

    My point was, unless replacement is necessary as a matter of safety, it makes more sense to add a NEW parking garage where every new space is a net increase, rather than spend an ungodly fortune of taxpayer dollars to demolish and replace 421 existing spaces. The cost of rebuilding these spaces to achieve LEED Silver will make this an astronomically expensive project. It sounds from others like maybe it is unsafe and needs to be replaced. It just bums me out how much money we are going to spend to do this when there are so many competing infrastructure needs in the City.

  • southberkeleyres

    Why don’t we have a shuttle similar to Emeryville’s. A circular route going Ashby, San Pablo, University Shattuck at least! Maybe another Gilman, San Pablo, University, Shattuck.

  • AJ

    A “green” parking garage? Can a parking garage be green? If there is such a need for parking, then let a private developer build and operate it on their own dime. The city should not be subsidizing parking for theater-goers and downtown employees; let’s focus on properly managing the parking resources we have. Increasing parking supply will induce more automobile trips and thereby increase traffic and GHG emissions.

  • Luke

    This is probably going to cost at least $35 million, assuming $50,000/space. As a Berkeley taxpayer, I don’t want to contribute $350. And that’s not even including demolition. Absolutely not worth it in a location that has excellent bicycle and transit access. Let’s see a seismic retrofit alternative that does not add any more parking..

  • Luke

    Thanks for putting it that way. I even think you underestimated the costs. The numbers you quoted might be accurate for a greenfield parking garage, but for something located in the heart of an expensive area? Perhaps $50,000 and $100,000 for underground. PLUS demolition.

  • Greg

    Why is Berkeley spending taxpayer dollars to expand a parking garage next to its subway station? This garage expansion will create more traffic, which will generate more pollution, more danger to pedestrians and bicycles, more delay to buses, and more greenhouse gases.

    I thought Berkeley was a progressive city that prioritized people over cars. Berkeley should tear down this garage and put housing, retail and office space in its downtown, not cars. There is plenty of parking downtown; if the parking fills up, then the parking is too cheap.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    “where availability is often scarce already.” — citation needed?

    I often drive to downtown berkeley YMCA and I can’t ever remember having to park further than 2 blocks away.

  • Nope.

    >there is plenty of parking downtown

    Not if you want to draw in out-of-town shoppers, which our business districts rely on.

  • Jame

    Hmm this seems weird to me. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to plan how to get less people to drive over there? For example, if I think it will be impossible to park in downtown Berkeley, I jus park over at North Berkeley or Ashby BART and take BART for one stop. It is cheaper than the garage, and likely the same amount of time compared to driving around looking for parking. There can’t be a theater district shuttle from either of the 2 bart stations? And how is it “green” tearing down one building and getting new green materials. Sounds pretty wasteful. How can the existing nearby infrastructure be better utilized?

  • ekoontz

    Odd that

  • Hyper_lexic

    but assuming $15/day in revenue per space, you’d get $5000 revenue per space per year… 10% yearly return is a good use of the cities money on that basis.

  • Hyper_lexic

    would love to hear more!

  • emraguso

    Thanks for the question. That was based on numerous statements during various public comment periods in public meetings in recent months as well as concerns raised by merchants as well as a recent report noting city garages downtown operating at full or near-full capacity (
    Personally, when I must drive there — which I try to avoid — I can usually find a convenient spot, but I don’t mind spending a bit of time hunting. I can imagine that people unfamiliar with the area, or with mobility issues that require them to be closer in, might have more trouble.
    Once the city gives its next report on goBerkeley I’m sure there will be a lot more actual data available.

  • Olga

    Have you been in that parking garage!?!? The design is so inefficient. It would be GREAT if more people would bike, walk or take public transit…..but the reality is that they are not.

  • Olga

    There is SO NOT adequate parking downtown. The lots and street parking fill up and it is NOT cheap. Making parking more expensive or less plentiful will only result in less people coming downtown and spending their $$ elsewhere.

  • David D.

    I don’t see the need for a park-and-ride shuttle. North Berkeley and Ashby BART stations have plenty of parking at night. Just park there and hop on BART for a 3-minute ride to downtown. Berkeley could use a free downtown/Telegraph circulator, yes, but Bear Transit already runs those during the evening. How about a Berkeley/UC partnership that better utilizes that taxpayer-funded service?

  • David D.

    We do. They’re called AC Transit Routes 25 and 49. Also, Cal, LBL, etc. already run shuttle systems around the downtown/Telegraph area. Why can’t they partner with the city to run a unified shuttle system that is open to everyone?

  • History of Thuggery

    Visiting Ashby BART at night is an open invitation for a mugging. North Berkeley has had major problems with mugging as well. BART makes no attempt to patrol their poorly lit lots or areas at night and any time large number of people begin using them in the evening crime inevitably follows.

  • John Coveney

    I doubt that the building is seismically safe. To start, the greenest building isn’t one that collapses
    in an earthquake