Are banks a roadblock to walkable development?

Derek P. Jensen brings us this article on the only thing holding up transit-oriented and New Urbanist development in Salt Lake City: banks.  One of the biggest issues with banks is that their lending practices stress an abundance of parking, while one of the main purposes of these types of development is to reduce parking and encourage other modes of transportation.  Salt Lake City is having a hard time getting financing for the gateway district, which is expected to host a new TRAX light rail line and become a vibrant, walkable, 24-hour community, despite a number of local success stories in TOD.  Council Chairman Carlton Christensen explained that, even in the transit haven of Portland, early investors “had to have their hands held,” and the Council has the responsibility to educate investors.  Local builders agree; even after a tour of Portland and a conversion to the value of mixed-use development, they say they still have trouble finding financing.  Michael Morris of Zions Bank says that banks would be willing to be flexible if long-term investors were comfortable with less parking, but he doesn’t see that happening. “I don’t know if public transportation or fuel efficiency or the green movement is going to change that in the near term,” he says.  Apparently he’s never been to San Francisco, Portland or Washington, DC, or heard of Vauban, Germany or other communities making a lot of money off of green transportation and TOD.  Some people think that Salt Lake City is still a car culture city, but TRAX is already changing that, and as it expands, so will TOD.  Bruce Bingham, whose company is nearing completion of an office tower near the Gallivan Plaza TRAX station, deliberately scaled back the parking at his project because he knows that TRAX will  bring in workers without bringing in cars. “So far, it’s proven out that the TRAX stop is going to compensate for a lack of excess parking,” he says.  “The same conditions would exist for any transit-oriented development near a TRAX stop.”  He also says that developers shouldn’t worry about a lack of parking downtown. “The myth that there is a lack of parking in Salt Lake is just that: a myth.”  I hope that the continued success of TOD in Salt Lake City and elsewhere will soon convince lenders that these projects are worth their money.


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