This Nearly-Empty Indianapolis Parking Garage Is an Epic Waste of Public Money

Indianapolis spent $6.35 million on the Broad Ripple parking garage, and it's mostly empty. Photo: Midwest Constructors LLC
Indianapolis spent $6.35 million on the Broad Ripple parking garage, and it's mostly empty. Photo: Midwest Constructors LLC

Subsidized parking garages frequently turn into money-losing concrete bunkers on land better suited for something more productive than car storage. The Broad Ripple parking garage in Indianapolis, a pet project of former mayor Greg Ballard, is a spectacular example.

“It goes without saying that the garage is a white elephant for the City — possibly one of the biggest black eyes for the Ballard administration,” Eric McAfee writes at UrbanIndy. “It has turned into a burden for the owner as well.”

Broad Ripple is a hotspot for bars, restaurants, and shopping on the north side of Indianapolis. Plans are underway for a 35-mile bus rapid transit line connecting with downtown, but for now most people drive to Broad Ripple, leading to constant complaints about a lack of parking. So in 2011, the city gave Keystone Group $6.35 million in public funds — generated through a parking meter privatization deal — to build a $15 million, three-story, 350-space garage, which opened in 2013 on the site of a shuttered gas station.

“If the key to economic development can be boiled down to having enough places for people to park, Broad Ripple is in for good things,” the local news gushed at the time. But the assumption that a new garage would be a good use of city funds turned out to be very, very wrong.

For starters, the garage charged twice as much ($2/hour) as on-street meters, and nearby residential streets never got a permit program, so people kept parking where they always had instead of ponying up for the garage. A local TV station reported that, five months after opening, the garage was just 5.5 percent full on average, and only 20 percent full during weekend evenings, when Broad Ripple is busiest.

A year after opening, the garage dropped its rate to match the meters. It hasn’t helped much: On his recent visit to the garage, McAfee found it was still mostly empty. In an attempt to cut losses, last year the owner got permission to lease out the garage’s top floor to a car rental operator.

The garage’s first floor contains 25,000 square feet of retail, which the developer has also struggled to fill. Rents for the new retail space are reportedly well above the neighborhood average. A chain hair salon and a Michigan-based brewpub have opened, but two other tenants — a chain sandwich store and a national frozen yogurt shop — have chosen not to renew their leases, McAfee reports. To fill the space, Keystone has turned to the merchandise shop for the local professional soccer team — which is owned by Keystone CEO Ersal Ozdemir.

McAfee writes:

In other words, the CEO of Keystone is spinning off some of his own equity to help pay off construction loans for the garage — loans that the City already helped reduce by over 6 million… If he hadn’t received this generous subsidy, would he have sunk all his money into such a poor design? If he had sought a market-driven method of adding vibrancy to a key intersection in Broad Ripple, wouldn’t a mixed-use product with housing or offices on a few upper floors have helped the retail?

With mistakes cast in concrete, Indianapolis probably won’t clear this site for a different type of development anytime soon. But the Broad Ripple garage can serve as an example to other cities that public spending on parking garages is a losing strategy.

  • com63

    Seems like permit parking on the residential streets is the potential fix to the problem.

  • Maggie

    Indeed.

    Plus I don’t get why the street meter spaces are prices low enough that people complain about not having a place to park. If the city privatized them, why not bring prices closer to the garage parking rates so that supply and demand are in balance?

  • vnm

    I think when people complain there’s “nowhere to park,” they usually mean, “for free.”

  • Ken Dodd

    That’s one hell of an ugly building. I see they opted for that wavy paneling that’s all the rage at the minute. It looks like sh*t.

  • Brent B

    Broad Ripple is evolving from a quaint little village with an abundance of street and surface lot parking (much of it free) to a more congested destination that needs more places for pedestrians to walk and for vehicles to park. I would envision that one day, soon, metered parking on the village’s main street (Broad Ripple Avenue) will be elimimated in favor of wider sidewalks and improved streetscaping, and $5 surface lots will give way to the attractive economics of more new shops and restaurants. Side streets, where parking is now free, cannot absorb the overflow – nor will homeowners on those streets stand for it. Then the much-derided parking garage will be appreciated and embraced.

  • It’s much better looking than most Indianapolis parking garages, to be frank.

  • The city relinquished all control of its meters to a private authority several years ago in a quick dash to get $20M. It’s out of their hands. As I noted in the article, the garage had to lower its rates from $2 to $1/hour to compete with on-street parking. And, until the neighborhood gets its act together and initiates residential parking permits, Broad Ripple is simply not a difficult place to find FREE parking, even on Saturday nights.

  • They actually do seem to be standing for it, Brent, at least right now. I’m not sure what’s keeping them from aggressively pursuing residential parking permits. Do you have any idea?

    Until they get that locked, Broad Ripple neighborhood (I refuse to call it a “Village”) still has an abundance of easy parking, and much of it is free. The garage is also on the far western end of the main strip, and I’d imagine some people avoid the structure if they want to visit something much further east, where they have the option of parking in that huge strip mall near Broad Ripple High School.

  • But, but they can’t be an epic waste of money. Carmel is building them with city money for free parking at stores no one frequents. What could go wrong. Don’t look too closely plenty already has gone wrong! Carmel has one garage that cost $22.5 Million and has 184 parking space of which 123 are Reserved and 61 are Public Do the Math! $122,283/ parking space and 2/3 are reserved. Amazing!

  • Hi Rick, this is Eric, who originally wrote the article featured here. (I’m using American Dirt because that’s the name of my blog.) Thanks for your observations, Rick–if you count parking spots available to the general public, each space in that Carmel garage cost $368,852. Unreal.

  • Maggie

    Ahh, that makes sense if parking in the residential areas is unmetered and free. Otherwise, if meter prices were out of the city’s hands after the privatization, I was lost why the operator didn’t put rates at $2/hour to match the garage.

  • acerttr250

    It’s a simple lesson. If parking was such a good idea, let the free market bank roll it. Look at NYC. Are they building 50 story parking garages left and right?

    When people say “there is no parking “, they are really saying ” I have to work sometimes to find car storage”.

    That’s all.

  • davistrain

    Does any other set of websites use the term “car storage” to refer to parking? This seems to be a Streetsblog usage. To “outsiders”, car storage usually means long term non-operation of motor vehicles, usually in open spots in industrial areas. In such facilities one might find boats on trailers, recreational vehicles and “project cars” (inoperable vehicles that someone is planning to restore when he gets around to it).

  • zucho drig

    >wouldn’t a mixed-use product with housing or offices on a few upper floors have helped the retail?

    If housing or offices were approved.
    Btw, it doesn’t look that ugly from College Ave.

  • Richard

    What they mean is there is no FREE parking. There is always an option for those willing to pay.

  • Brent B

    There are more than a few “preservationists” in Broad Ripple who would like to keep it as it was in the 1960s, with very few structures more than 1.5 or 2 storeys tall (the battle over the new Coil apartments above a Fresh Thyme market with attached 3 storey parking garage is the most recent example). At any rate, the College Avenue retail store fronts are nearly all occupied and the aesthetics are much better than the Westfield Boulevard elevation pictured with this article).

  • Brent B

    If you do the math, the cost of that garage amortized over a 30 year period works out to just $35.51 per parking space per day (seven days per week, at full capacity) not counting electric lights, ticket/payment kiosks, and maintenance. Howard Metzenbaum, the late Democratic senator from Ohio, made his fortune owning and operating APCOA parking facilities in Cleveland and elsewhere.

  • Bernard Finucane

    It’s a mess, but here are some simple suggestions:

    Close E Westfield Blvd between the entrance to the garage and North College Ave. Make it pedestrian only and let the craft beer guys put tables out in the street. Put a nice cast iron fence along the canal instead of those horrible guide planks.

    Remove the on street parking on College and Broad Ripple. Replace it with sidewalks. Remove parking on other streets except for residents.

    Take out the suicide lane on Broad Ripple while you’re at it.

    Allow 1 hour of free parking in the garage, then $2 an hour afterwards.

  • This is so true. The city I live in has perennial complaints about no parking in the downtown cores. People continually demand more. And yet, parking studies have consistently found parking utilization maxes out at 60-70%. There’s tons of parking.

  • Andrew

    Is the term inaccurate? Storage doesn’t need to be long-term in order to be storage.

  • davistrain

    I won’t say it’s “inaccurate”, but just not the way the word is used outside of Streetsblog. Airports have short term (hourly) parking and long term (several days) parking. I think “parking” means leaving a car in one spot, with plans to return to it in at a more-or-less definite time.

  • davistrain

    Either “for free” or “within 25 feet of the doorway”.

  • Andrew

    Do most motorists who don’t commute by car know when they’ll necessarily next be using the car when they park it at home? Back when I owned a car I certainly didn’t (well, I knew that I had to move it before alternate side kicked in on my side of the street, but spending an hour or two circling around trying to find a different place to park the car doesn’t really count as usage). I parked the car because I was finished using it, and it remained parked until I next had a use for it, whether an hour later or a month later.

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