Catching up with the Preston Center Task Force, Part 1: Giving Mark Cuban the Bird and Parking Woes

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I bet the task force members thought I’d given them a Christmas present by not writing up the Dec. 3 meeting. Nope. I was just outta town. So what happened at that meeting (you didn’t show up for)?

First was a recap of a Nov. 3 meeting, the Task Force open house held to share preliminary data to area residents and to ask for feedback. As in previous open house sessions, there were “topic stations” setup with flip-charts and markers for capturing thoughts. This time, 66 residents attended. For those keeping count, that’s 1 percent of the 6,736 residents in the task force area. I suppose the other 99 percent were either out of town (like me) or more likely apathetic (waiting for any action to be a gavel-bang away before piping up). You know the type — the first to complain and the last to volunteer — and if you live in Task Force-land, you likely only have to look in the mirror. (Although I do love those with total apathy — no opinion and no interference.)

Before I get to parking, one topic seeped into every question posed of the meagre attendees. That question was, “How do we ensure Mark Cuban gets the shaft on Northwest Highway?” In one question, attendees were asked to put colored “dots” on locations they want to see Residential, Office, Greenspace, or “Other.”

First, there wasn’t a single dot placed that wasn’t spitting distance from the intersection of Preston Road and Northwest Highway. So again, while the task force’s mandate covers a huge area, only that intersection is of any real interest. Is that “concern” really just attendee self-interest? Probably. The vast majority of attendees to these meetings reside or have businesses within blocks of this intersection.

Does it call into question why a resident’s opinion on the outskirts of the task force area carries more weight than a non-resident who works daily in Preston Center? Probably. Should the task force have included the opinions of people who navigate Preston Center every day? Probably. Just 8 percent of survey respondents actually work in Preston Center. Given this task force is so focused on one intersection, shouldn’t University Park (one quarter of the intersection) officially be part of this foofaraw? Probably.

Have I said all that before? Very probably.

12 of 22 dots (upper left) sends Cuban a message.

12 of 22 dots (upper left) sends Cuban a message.

The “No Cuban” brigade was out in November with lots of yellow (residential) and green (greenspace) stickers plastered (with middle fingers?) all over his holdings. The location of the Green dots seems a tailored dig at Cuban by down-zoning his lots to parkland. So careful were these dotters that they left a yellow Residential dot for Ebby Halliday’s former home.

Placed on sticky notes was this ditty, “Do not increase density or increase zoning on north side of Northwest Highway from Preston to Tollway.” And this, “Taller mixed use along south side of NW Highway.” And this, “Single-family residential on north side of NW Highway west of Preston and Low rise multi-family on north side of NW Highway east of Preston.” All adding words to their “dots” of disapproval.

Then there’s the millionaires charity appeal, “Sound barrier wall along NW Highway on north side between Preston and Douglas.” Translation: “Mommie, that mean old Mr. Cuban knocked down those mansions and fences so now my multi-million-dollar home isn’t quiet no more … and we think the city (well, anyone but us) should build a fence.”

I assume there would have been another dot-flurry had the latest news of St Michael’s high-rise ambitions not still been kept secret by task force member and St. Michael’s planning committee member Jay Grogan. I guess St. Michael’s desire for a 250,000-square-foot office tower provided a “higher calling” than being a more forthcoming neighbor to the community. WWJD indeed.

Preston Center West Parking … Still Not a Big Deal

An online survey garnered a much better 10 percent resident participation score. In it, respondents were asked about the future vision of Preston Center. Eighty percent either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that added parking was needed in the area. The only other question that got anywhere near that kind of support was a desire for more outdoor dining (further bolstering my opinion that residents just want a giant food court). Respondents were overwhelmingly “neutral” on any sort of retail change.

But what are the measured facts (versus perception) concerning parking at Preston Center West?

Preston Center West Parking at 10:00am

Preston Center West Parking at 10:00am

The image above shows that at 10:00am on a typical Thursday, the only parking problems are some surface spaces located directly in front of a few restaurants (like Hopdoddy) where there are very few spaces. The parking garage is just over half full on the upper level (with area workers) and less than half full on the lower level (customers). Or in other words, for customers and workers willing to park in the central garage, there is plenty of space.

Preston Center West Parking at 1:00pm

Preston Center West Parking at 1:00pm

At 1:00pm on that fateful Thursday, there’s certainly less parking but that central parking garage still ain’t full. This flies in the face of the propaganda that there is no parking at lunch. That said, the lower level is definitely a challenge, but the upper level is still registering under 75-percent full. Or course parking on the upper level still requires navigating a flight of stairs because the complainers continue to postpone-to-death the skybridge and its attendant elevators and improvements.

Preston Center West Parking at 5:00pm

Preston Center West Parking at 5:00pm

By 5:00pm we see the situation almost returned to its 10:00am vacancy rates with the central garage chock-full of space. The red lines we do see are outside popular takeaway restaurants as workers heading home stop for an order of spring rolls and Kung Pao chicken at Pei Wei.

The parking problems at Preston Center seem to boil down to the same people who want a walkable neighborhood being too lazy to walk from the garage to California Pizza Kitchen. This seems to find purchase in the comment, “Force valet to use more distant parking spots in Preston Center,” posted at the meeting.

It’s worth noting that the task force has asked the consultants to provide a full week of parking lot monitoring in January to review (because I assume they couldn’t believe the lack of a problem either).

Now, as I’ve written before, Preston Center West is ugly, dilapidated and a logistical nightmare of one-way streets. This must be addressed for the center to prosper and service its neighborhood in the best possible way. Given that the area is a hodge-podge of individual landowners, the city has zero control over their appearance. However, the city does have limited control over the central parking structure and roadways. As has been said by many, demolish the parking structure (before it falls down), submerge it and create a ground-level greenspace capable of hosting any number of public events. Success there may nudge property owners to rebuild and renovate their aging properties.

Next time, I’ll recap where the task force is with traffic. Spoiler alert: It’s a lulu.

 

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