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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Parking Takes Automatic Turn

Automated parking systems are gaining traction with Los Angeles developers, who see them as an efficient way to maximize space and add convenience for drivers.

“I can park more cars in the same envelope than my competitors. We’re able to get 50% more cars,” said developer Wally Marks. “Concrete parking structures are yesterday’s design.”

As urban land becomes scarcer and more expensive in Los Angeles, developers such as Marks are turning to automated systems as solutions for onsite parking.

Walter H. Marks Inc. has two projects in the works that will include automated parking garages. The first is the Mirabel, a 42-story Miracle Mile multifamily complex at 5411 Wilshire Blvd. The 348-unit residential tower, which will cost more than $500 million, is in the environmental impact report phase. The Mirabel will take three years to build.

Marks’ other project, at 8787 Venice Blvd. in Venice, will include 73 apartments with 11 affordable units and 70,000 square feet of commercial space. Construction will begin next year.

Marks said he was sold on automated parking shortly after his first conversation with Christopher Alan, founder of AutoParkit.

“I recognized many great features in the first 10 minutes,” Marks said. “I could see how this is really different. I’m not a partner in the firm, I’m just a client. I believe in it. His design and his approach to the parking-need issue makes a lot of sense to me.”

Marks installed an AutoParkit automated parking structure seven years ago at his Helms Bakery property in Culver City. The system can handle 400 cars.

“It’s a game changer,” Marks said. “You get out of your car and the lifts will park your car three-dimensionally. The new versions will charge your EV.”

Other players

Companies working in the sector include downtown-based Automated Parking Solution, CityLift Parking, Park Plus Inc. and Utron.

Michael Bohn is a partner at the Long Beach-based architecture firm Studio One Eleven, which is also working on automated parking systems. The firm has a tower project at 615 Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach that will include an automated parking system capable of holding 265 vehicles.

“It really made a lot of sense to us,” Bohn said. “We have less and less land to develop. The need to use parking in a more efficient way is really important. There’s a saying among architects that form follows parking.”

Bohn added that incorporating an automated parking system had a major benefit.

“When we looked at it conventionally, it was 11 levels of parking,” he said. “When we looked at it with the automated parking, we ended up with six levels in less area than the 11 levels of the conventional parking. There’s like a 40% to 50% savings just in area and volume.”


Wally Marks near the Retrieval Queue of the automated parking system at Helms Bakery.
Wally Marks at his Helms Bakery parking facility.


Despite developers’ interest in automated parking facilities, some are planning for other uses for the facilities in case they are no longer needed.

“My automated parking system can adapt and have other usages, like for storage,” Marks said. “If my demand in parking goes down, I can offer storage.”

Marks added that drivers are not intimidated by the parking technology.

“People are enamored with the technology,” Marks said. “They recognize that there are many, many benefits besides the ecological benefits. There’s no cars driving up. There’s no emissions. Your car stays off.”

Alan founded Gorman-based AutoParkit — which until recently was based in Van Nuys — in 2009. He was developing a five-story high-rise project in Burbank and the city of Los Angeles insisted that he create 113 parking slots. As a space-saving solution, Alan came up with his parking system, which relies on electric motors to move cars around.

“We don’t employ robotics, and we don’t employ hydraulics for the sole purpose of being able to predict failures, so you don’t have failures,” Alan said. “Electric motors are different.”

In case of a power outage, a back-up generator will kick in to ensure that there is no disruption to the system.

“We did the pilot program for automated parking for the city of Los Angeles 10 years ago,” he added, referring to a facility on Burbank Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. “That system is still up and running.”

Alan is currently creating AutoParkit systems for Beverly Hills and Chinatown, and has installed systems all over downtown Los Angeles.

“You can park twice as many cars in the same space,” he said.

Positive features

Alan said that the environmental benefits of the systems are a big selling point.

“Cars are not using gas,” he explained. “They’re not burning fuel. There’s no emissions. There’s very little energy consumption. We don’t have lights 24 hours a day. So it’s environmentally beneficial. It uses significantly less energy than a traditional parking structure, about 60% less electricity.”

Bohn, of Studio One Eleven, agreed.

“There’s less operating costs,” he said. “You don’t have to light the space that the cars are in. The ventilation is less because now you don’t have cars emitting carbon dioxide. And then you need no electricity. Day or night, no one needs to be in there to maintain it. It can be pitch black.”

There’s also a safety benefit.

“It’s a much better user experience,” Alan said. “You don’t have to remember where you parked your car. You don’t have to worry about someone breaking the window and stealing, because it’s secure. You don’t have to remember where you parked it because all you’re going to do is touch your iPhone app or wave your key fob and it’s going to come back to you.”

As with Marks, many developers who have installed AutoParkit systems have come back to the company for other projects.

“We have a lot of repeat business with all of our clients,” Alan said.

Beyond Los Angeles, Alan’s company has projects completed or under construction in Florida, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. AutoParkit has also created a system in Detroit for Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who is converting the building that housed the Detroit Free Press newspaper into an apartment complex.

“We did a parking system in the original three-story basement where the printing presses used to be,” Alan said.

Alan is especially proud of the EV component of his automated parking systems.

“We developed and patented new EV charging technology,” Alan said. Using the Mirabel project as an example, Alan continued: “Instead of one car for one charger, our technology allows us to charge up to 10 cars with a single charger.”

Yair Goldberg represents Utron, which has created parking systems in West Hollywood and Santa Monica. He noted the benefits of the user experience.

“We’re providing a valet system without a valet,” Goldberg said. “A system where you drop off your vehicle and the system takes it away and brings it back to you without anyone going through your glove compartment.”

Based in New Jersey, Utron was formed in 2001. Goldberg said real estate developers are reaching out to the company either directly or through their architects.

“Demand is increasing, acceptance is increasing,” Goldberg said. “Municipalities are adopting codes and standards to put this in their building codes.”

As acceptance for their systems grows, the entrepreneurs behind automated parking enjoy creating systems that yield benefits on multiple levels.

“I love to build, but I love to do things that are good for communities, things that are good for people and things that are good for the environment,” Alan said. “I’m fortunate that this technology that I developed lends itself to all of those things.”

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Michael Aushenker Author