(TNS) -- Sacramento city officials say they plan to spend $5.7 million on high-tech upgrades to five downtown parking garages in preparation for large crowds when the downtown arena opens next year.
The upgrades, to start in February, will allow drivers to go online to purchase and reserve spaces in city garages days or weeks ahead of time. The system will include cameras with license plate recognition technology so entrance and exit gates will open automatically for drivers who prepay, reducing delays getting in and out of garages before and after major arena events.
The new system may also allow eventgoers to exit city garages in separate lanes from people who did not prepay, city parking chief Matt Eierman said. Monthly parking pass users will be able to buy their passes online. Currently, those users must pay in person at City Hall or pay by mail.
Eierman said the upgrades are part of an overall downtown parking “modernization” program that has been ongoing for several years to deal with more downtown visitors and residents. He said the downtown arena has been one of the catalysts for the changes, but is not the sole reason.
“Even though the arena is a catalyst for our efforts, it’s not the only thing that is happening in the city,” Eierman said. “It’s not just about an arena; it is about providing access to available parking.”
Only two companies made proposals to implement the parking upgrades. The city chose Amano McGann Inc., a Minnesota-based parking technology company with experience implementing similar systems in cities. The City Council approved the contract Tuesday night. Amano McGann will begin prep work immediately, and will be making changes in city garages from February through July. The arena opens in October of next year.
The upgrades will include electronic signboards at parking garage entrances showing how many parking spots are available at that garage and on what garage level. They also will allow people to go online to see in real time which garages have spaces available. Ultimately, officials said, they hope to add a smartphone app that can direct drivers to the nearest garages with availability.
The city also is talking with Sacramento Kings management about including a city parking garage link on the Kings ticket sales website, allowing arenagoers to reserve parking spots at the same time they buy tickets to concerts, games or other arena events.
The garages covered by the contract are the Capitol garage at 10th and L streets, the City Hall garage at 10th and I streets, the Memorial Garage at 14th and H streets, Tower Bridge garage at the south entrance to Old Sacramento, and the Old Sacramento garage at Second and I streets.
Eierman said the changes will allow the city to adjust parking rates up or down according to demand. He said the city has not set up a protocol for when or how it will do dynamic pricing. City parking officials, in a report to the council, estimate the proposed work will pay for itself over time by creating efficiencies that should boost parking revenue 10 percent without any parking price changes.
Councilman Jeff Harris said the flexibility the upgrades allow will be important as downtown gets more crowded.
“It is going to get people to the position where they are not driving around looking for a parking space all the time,” Harris said. “I think it is money well-spent.”
Chris McSwain, executive director of the Old Sacramento Business Association, said the new technology should allow the old town business group to negotiate with the the city for differing pricing levels for employee parking, monthly resident parking and special event parking.
“I think it is really going to open up conversations and negotiations between city and the business community on how this new technology can be adapted, he said. That includes “coming up with the best market-driven prices for each of those segments.”
He said businesses owners want to make sure the city doesn’t allow arena uses to overshadow surrounding business parking needs. “Our concern continues to be to make sure any parking inventory used for arena events doesn’t take away parking for Old Sacramento employees, residents and visitors,” he said. “We want to make sure this technology finds the balance.”
Valerie Mamone-Werder, a spokeswoman for of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership business and property owners group, said the new technology will make it easier for people to come and to stay longer, and worry less about where they will find parking and how to pay for it.
One City Hall critic, Craig Powell of the Eye on Sacramento watchdog group, said the plan looks as though it contains a lot of notable benefits for downtown parkers, but said he’d like to see details on the expected return on investment.
“It looks like a great service to arenagoers and downtown parkers,” Powell said. “The question is, is it worth the $5 million investment as opposed to other city needs?”
The city also recently added more than 4,000 smart meters on downtown streets, which allow drivers to pay with credit cards or any coins. Those meters also will allow the city to raise the price per hour for parking close to the arena during events when demand allows.
The city also has secured a 10-year contract with the state to manage the state’s parking lots under the W/X freeway. That will allow the city to work a deal with the Kings for their arena employees to park under the freeway and be shuttled to the arena.
©2015 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.