Midtown Raleigh News

June 9, 2014

Raleigh parking spots to become tiny ‘parklets’

Raleigh will soon see its first “parklets,” designed by private parties and placed semi-permanently atop streetside parking spots.

Pam Blondin is going to pay a very large parking bill.

Sometime this summer, she and three partners plan to cut a check for roughly $5,000 to the city. In exchange, they’ll get something most business owners would envy: control of two parking spots outside Blondin’s downtown business, DECO Raleigh.

Then they’ll cover the pavement with natural turf. And some benches. Maybe a bicycle-powered juicer, too.

Blondin and collaborators Bob Massengale, Tyner Tew and Carla Delcambre are launching one of Raleigh’s first “parklets,” a new type of public space sanctioned by the city, usually designed by private parties, and placed semi-permanently atop curbside parking spots.

The team in charge of the DECO project showed concept plans near the site at First Friday and soon will debut an online Kickstarter fundraiser for the project. The proposed parklet’s website is raleighspace.org.

City staff say the parklet concept was born in San Francisco, where the design firm Rebar paid a parking meter for a few hours to deploy the first one in 2005. Now San Francisco’s government administers a program, complete with a manual published last year, that has put more than 40 parklets in the streets, ranging from a converted van to wooden patios.

New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and a host of other cities have adopted the idea. Raleigh set the groundwork last year, after resident lobbying, and it will formally accept applications for the first parklets beginning Monday.

As of Friday, the city already had two ultra-mini parks in the works, including the South Salisbury Street project and one planned for the Lincoln Theatre on East Cabarrus Street.

“In some respects, they’re our pilot projects,” said Grant Meacci, a city administrator of the program. “They’re going to help us make the process better.”

The Lincoln Theatre project may arrive first, with an early-summer debut, but the DECO team’s Salisbury Street project is racing along behind it and has a bigger marketing campaign.

The people leading the Salisbury project – Massengale and Tew are graduate students, and Delcambre, a professor in landscape architecture at N.C. Sate University – want to raise at least $16,500 to deploy their parklet, because they have big plans for their 9-by-34-foot stretch.

“We like the idea of setting the bar really high,” Blondin said. “We all feel pretty strongly that in a year, there will be a dozen (parklets) that are in play.”

Some complaints expected

Blondin predicts that the advent of Raleigh parklets will bring a few types of complaints.

First, there will be people unhappy to see parking spots disappear. Customers at Kimbrell’s Furniture, just down Salisbury street from the proposed parklet, already complain about parking, store staff members say.

The parklet team ran into one “grumpy customer” last Saturday as they tried to film the empty spots, which are on the east side of Salisbury Street, just south of its intersection with Hargett Street.

In fact, the city has an “abundance” of parking in its downtown decks, according to a city report on parklets, even if streetside parking can be hard to find.

Lauren Ramirez, the owner of DECO’s immediate neighbor, Querqus Studios, is happy to see the project arrive. She thinks the attention to Salisbury Street will easily offset any extra walking for customers.

“It’s going to change Salisbury Street a lot,” Ramirez said. “Downtown’s more active than it’s been in a long time, and Salisbury’s off the beaten path.”

To prevent parklet conflicts, the city is setting restrictions and reviewing each project. For example, each parklet team must get the permission of 75 percent of property owners on its side of the block.

But Blondin predicts that some people simply won’t like the new designs they see on the street. So another solution is to keep changing.

“What’s really important to me is not having it be static – having the parklet be really cool in its own right but also be a stage for other things to happen,” Blondin said.

The team wants to use $5,000 from its fundraiser to bring performers and artists to the parklet, perhaps even allowing some to redesign the foliage and aesthetics of the tiny space. Even now, a graduate class at N.C. State is sketching ideas that could be part of the final version.

Tew, Massengale and Blondin have plenty of ideas themselves. Their early ones include a device to collect water for dogs; solar-power charging for vehicles; a bike rack; lighting; and, of course, that pedal-powered blender.

First, though, the design team needs money. Empire Eats and Empire Properties are the project’s largest benefactors so far, promising help with construction materials and rewards for people who donate to the fundraiser.

The fundraiser runs through July 15, with construction scheduled to begin in August.

Laboratories for ideas

The two parklets in the works now won’t technically be Raleigh’s first. Tyner Tew was an organizer of Parking Days, which has twice put parks in parking spaces for a day.

“It’s kind of neat to see people’s reactions. They’re unsure if they can go in,” Tew said. “Once people see other people using it, they feel more open to use it.”

At its most mundane, a parklet could allow a business to put down new seating in a pretty setting, Blondin said. At its best, a parklet is a laboratory for planning ideas.

“They’ve kind of allowed people to test their ideas in the city,” Tew said, crediting former planning director Mitchell Silver. “Even if there’s not a rulebook, you create it as you go.”

And then, of course, there’s the parking bill. The annual fee – up to $2,500 for each space – is about what you’d pay for a year parking curbside, every hour of every weekday.

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