by Lindsay Cohen | Friday, August 28th 2015
SEATTLE – When Darcy Johnson was looking to rent a new apartment downtown, a parking spot was a deal-breaker.
“I need my car for my job and to make a living, and I don't feel that I’m a candidate for a bicycle,” said Johnson, an accountant with clients in Seattle and the suburbs. “And the public transit – as much as we‘re improving it in Seattle – I don't feel that I can depend on it.“
A building going up at 9th Avenue and Pine Street caught Johnson‘s eye – not only for its environmentally-friendly rooftop but for the ground-level parking plan: a brand-new, high-tech car-stacking system that would be the first of its kind in the Emerald City.
”It‘s not just a gizmo. It‘s not just a gadget. It‘s not something to get media attention. It‘s a way to have a car downtown,” Johnson said. “Look at all the cars we have downtown in that small space. It just makes perfect sense.“
A standard parking arrangement would have left space for just 10 cars, said Sara Englehart, the business manager at the Nine and Pine Apartments. In lieu of that, the developer installed a computerized Carmatrix system, which allows the building to park three times the number of cars in the same amount of space, with tenants operating it on their own.
”Our building is built on top of the bus tunnel. Normally, in a city setting, you would dig down and do underground garages. We can’t do that here,“ Englehart said. ”So we have to take the space that we have and maximize the square footage we can use.”
Residents use a swipe card to activate a keypad and then punch in a code to access their car. Vehicles then shift side-to-side and up-and-down until the requested car is at ground level.
There are other car-stacking systems in Seattle, Englehart added, but none that operate without the assistance of a valet.
”We are the first so far. I know we've had a lot of people check us out,“ said Englehart, adding that the city required the building to allow the public to view the system from the ground-floor sidewalk outside. “I’m sure we’ll see more to come.“
Johnson hopes the system moves not only cars – but minds, when it comes to maximizing space.
”The bottom line in this situation is we need affordable and available parking in the city of Seattle,“ Johnson said. “I would climb on a ladder for 10 stories to get up to my car if I had to because I need that car. That’s made the difference for me.“
Until recently, buildings taller than five stories had to be constructed of steel or reinforced concrete, both of which require about 80 percent more energy to produce and represent about 200 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than cross-laminated timber (CLT), a new engineered wood product.
Portland developer Ben Kaiser of the Kaiser Group recently completed the tallest American CLT mass timber building—an eight-story, 16-unit condominium/retail tower on an 8,470-square-foot (787 sq m) lot …
To sell high-end condominiums at premium prices to buyers who almost certainly would own cars, Kaiser needed to provide enough parking. On a site as small as the tower’s, building underground parking would have required underground ramps steeper than the code allowed or which spiraled so much as to have yielded too few spaces. Besides, the CLT tower’s small-grid, deep piling would have interfered with parking. So, Kaiser experimented with an automated underground parking system made by Wohr GmbH, a company based in Friolzheim, Germany. While mechanical parking lifts have been installed in Portland, this is the first fully robotic parking system in Oregon.
CARMATRIX: Limited parking? No problem
With little room for much-needed car slots, Minneapolis developers turned to a Rubik's Cube stacking system for their project.
As redevelopment sites go, 116 E. Hennepin Av. in Minneapolis was a prize. The nearly half-block parcel housed four old storefront buildings, including the popular Nye’s Polonaise Room, in a bustling neighborhood just a block from the leafy banks of the Mississippi River.
From a construction standpoint, the sloped, irregular-shaped site was a major league headache.
Two of the four buildings had historic protection and couldn’t be significantly altered; the oldest church in the city was right next door, and the buildings sat atop a deep deposit of bedrock that made blasting a hole deep enough to build a standard underground parking garage financially and logistically impractical.
Those site challenges and the complexity of stitching together the old and new buildings quickly made this the most complicated that Katie Anthony, a project manager for Schafer Richardson, had ever tackled.
“The methods for getting rid of that bedrock were not palatable,” said Anthony. “There were multiple challenges.”
Schafer Richardson, a seasoned Minneapolis-based developer, originally wanted to build a nearly 30-story concrete tower atop several levels of above-ground parking.
For a variety of reasons, that plan was scuttled in favor of a stick-built, low-rise apartment building that would replace two of the buildings and wrap around and sit atop the remaining two buildings.
Dramatically shrinking the height of the building solved several problems, but created one that was nearly insurmountable: A multilevel, above-ground parking garage was no longer feasible. Neither was forgoing a heated parking garage with enough spaces for every unit.
With population density on the rise in that part of the city, parking is highly coveted. In some condo buildings in the area, spaces fetch upward of $50,000, so not including sufficient parking would put the 67-unit building at a major competitive disadvantage.
So Schafer Richardson hired Denver-based Harding Steel to build what’s being called the first residential semi-automated, mechanical car stacking system in the Midwest.
The company’s CARMATRIX is essentially a Rubik’s Cube for cars.
The system is a grid of steel frames that supports a series of stacked galvanized steel platforms that move up and down and side to side. A metal gate closes behind the cars after they enter or leave the platform.
For each grouping of platforms, a vacant space at grade level enables the upper and lower platforms to move around to access a vehicle when it’s called by its owner using a portable remote control.
Unlike garage elevators that simply lift vehicles from one level to the next, and typical car storage systems that are operated by professional car parkers, the CARMATRIX enables residents to have an assigned space and park their own cars, eliminating the need for an attendant or a valet parker, Anthony said. The entire process takes just a couple minutes.
Because the M on Hennepin site was heavily sloped, the company was able to build a second traditional at-grade parking garage, giving residents another option. There are 26 spaces in the CARMATRIX and 37 in the traditional garage.
Though there was a steep learning curve for the building manager and the first residents, the CARMATRIX hasn’t been an obstacle to renting units. Since the building opened late least year, it’s been fully occupied.
In addition to the complexities of the site, designing the building around the CARMATRIX wasn’t easy. Anthony credited ESG Architects and Frana Cos. with figuring out how to tie the metal structure to the post-tension concrete structure.
A team from Twin Cities-based Rebel Electric flew to Seattle to inspect another system before installing the one at the M on Hennepin; they’ve become a local expert on the system, Anthony said.
Such systems are well-suited for cities where land prices are soaring and developable space is at a premium.
Ryan Myers, Harding Steel vice president, said that demand for its CARMATRIX and Combilift products, which are both based on the “puzzle” concept, has been on the rise.
The company is working with a developer in Hudson, Wis., but that project is still in the planning stages.
He said the system costs $14,000 to $16,000 per car, depending on options and the number of stalls.
Myers said developers in many second-tier and even some small but fast-growing cities, including Portland, Maine and Portland, Ore., are considering the option.
“It’s a way to optimize parking and development design and not be forced into hiring a valet operator to manage parking,” said Myers.
Apartment developers got creative after working with parking challenges at the cramped Nye’s Polonaise Room site.
August 29, 2018
The History of Mechanical Parking in the United States
The mechanical and automated parking systems industry in the United States has been flourishing for fifty years. While many newcomers to the industry believe that this is new, it has been a small but steadily growing industry for decades. The application of various lift technologies to commercial parking in urban centers has been regularly utilized to both increase parking capacity as well as increase parking revenue. Harding Steel has been at the forefront of this technology since 1968.
Traditionally mechanical parking has utilized hydraulic lift systems that “stack” cars on top of one another. At the very basic concept this is often referred to as a “double stacker” – which we refer to as the SUV Lift. The hydraulic lift systems range from double, triple, and up to four levels of parking on a single traditional parking space dimension. Historically the market for these lift systems have been outdoor stand-alone parking lots in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. The demand of these systems has spread across the country, with Harding Steel being the leader in a majority of the metro markets.
The early adopters of mechanical parking technologies have been commercial parking facilities not tied to mixed use or multifamily properties. These facilities are valet attended and usually operated on a lease basis from the property owner allowing the owner to double, triple, or quadruple revenue on a single stall. As these lots have been sold or repurposed for real estate development, the industry has seen a shift of both application for traditional parking systems as well as a demand for newer technology.
The demand for mechanical parking systems has found the way inside of commercial real estate development with either a mixed use or residential component. Valet operation is still very common across the country as both an luxury amenity and a design intent for the larger developments. Larger scale properties with a mixed-use program can often support the cost of valet operations, allowing them to utilize less expensive lifts over other alternatives.
The true mechanical and automated parking industry shift started to occur in the early 2000’s with the increase of smaller urban infill real estate projects. This shift created a demand for what is known as self-park or “independent parking.” It was at this time Harding Steel rolled out the first semi-automated parking systems in the United States called CARMATRIX. CARMATRIX allowed residents to be assigned a stall and through computer controls shuffle cars around inside of the “puzzle” to access them at grade. This removed the need for a valet in these smaller projects, unlocked development potential, and saved developers both money and time on bring projects out of the ground.
As the earliest adopters in the US for this technology, Harding Steel has seen the self-park industry grow to pit-based parking (subterranean parking) all the way through fully automated parking. Harding Steel provides solutions through every parking system category from simple parking stackers all the way through fully automated parking solutions. We install and service our equipment coast to coast.
Please contact Harding Steel to review any project or development you are working on. We are happy to work with you to create the solution that fits best into your development.