EXCLUSIVE: New $20M city parking garage sits almost empty

Published: Jul. 15, 2013 at 9:44 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 16, 2013 at 1:07 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Eight months after it opened, a new multi-million dollar city parking garage sits virtually empty in spite of a city employees' parking crunch near City Hall, Hawaii News Now has learned.

The city spent $20 million building the five-story garage on top of part of a bus transit center off King Street, just a few blocks from Honolulu Hale.

The garage opened last November with about 400 parking spots that will eventually serve a joint city and state traffic management center that is planned to be built on a neighboring parcel.

In the meantime, the new parking structure is virtually empty.  Hawaii News Now found just seven cars parked there at midday.

"I think it's a waste of taxpayer money, I mean, that's money that I earn and they're dishing it out all this cash for something that's just sitting there not being utilized, it doesn't make sense," said Ed Higa of Ewa Beach, who was walking by the new garage on his way to a medical appointment.

City's Transportation Director Mike Formby said since the Federal Transit Administration gave the city the money to buy the lot the garage is built on more than twenty years ago, there are restrictions on its use.

"When we initially asked for the authority to build our parking garage on their transit center, they said as long as they were traffic, transportation or transit related, they could park there," Formby said.

The only city employees currently parking at the new garage are police dispatchers, since they will eventually work in the new traffic management center, that won't be built for another three years.  The $50 million center will house fire, police, lifeguard and paramedic dispatchers as well as traffic control officials.  Groundbreaking for the new building is scheduled in the spring of 2014 and it's supposed to be completed in 2016.

Some city employees pay to park at the Blaisdell Center complex more than five blocks from City Hall. There's a 200-person waiting list for parking at the Honolulu Municipal Building parking structure, which is on the civic center grounds.

The garage at police headquarters, right next door to the new structure, is overcrowded and unable to hold all of HPD's employees.

So the city is trying to get permission to temporarily use the new garage until the new traffic management building opens in 2016.

"We'd like to get them in the Alapai parking garage so if we can get the FTA to agree, we'll put them in there and we'd also agree that the revenue from parking goes to transit," Formby said.

The city continues to pay to maintain the building, along with its two elevators and planters filled with flowers.

"It's part of the process. Because we used FTA funds we have to get their approval.  This administration would prefer that it be a faster process than it has been, but we are determined at the end of the day that we will get the approval," Formby added. "We've been going back and forth with the FTA for the last two months, trying to answer their questions. And the goal is to get city employees in there as quickly as possible."

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