DOWNTOWN — There’s a cluster of properties on a quiet tree-lined street that were long ago fated to cure the parking ills of the busiest commercial district in the city.

Some sitting vacant, others still housing tenants, the buildings along the 1300 block of Fifth Street were purchased by City Hall under a more than three-year-old Downtown Parking Program, which seeks to increase the number of parking spaces by more than 1,700 through new and upgraded structures.

But a consultant study that suggested City Hall only needs to better manage its existing inventory of spaces rather than create new structures could change the destiny of those buildings.

Last summer, Walker Parking Consultants released a report that found a significant amount of excess parking in private garages and public structures near the perimeter of Downtown due in large part to an inefficient pricing policy, charging less for spaces most conveniently located to the Third Street Promenade and therefore creating competition among drivers. While the public parking structures on Second and Fourth streets often remain close to full occupancy, the private garages are sitting empty.

The consultants recommended that rather than focusing on building more spaces, city officials should increase pricing and adjust parking management policies, both of which are currently being reviewed.

While drivers continue to fight for spaces on Second and Fourth streets, the buildings that were once purchased just blocks away under the Downtown Parking Program remain untouched.

Erika Cavicante, who works in Housing and Economic Development, said that there are no construction plans slated for any of the buildings, though one of them — 1324 Fifth — will be demolished in the next several months.

“If could be for a range of public purposes that could include affordable housing or public parking,” Cavicante said of the properties.

The list includes 1334 Fifth St., a two-story commercial retail building and adjoining industrial warehouse that sit on 7,500 square feet of land, purchased for $5 million in May. City Hall also purchased a commercial retail building and adjoining parking lot at 1338-42 Fifth St., which sits on 15,000 square feet of land and was acquired for $6 million in October 2007.

In September 2007, City Hall spent $30.9 million to purchase 52,500 square feet, comprised of 1323, 1324 and 1326 Fifth St., home to parking lots and an office building.

City Council members said the possibility of using the parcels for additional parking has not been ruled out but note the site presents opportunities for different projects that are needed in Downtown.

“There’s an opportunity to build a town square or park that would be very beneficial to the community,” Councilwoman Gleam Davis said. “It’s also an opportunity to do perhaps some mixed-use development, retail or housing over retail.”

If city officials decide to continue the original intent of building parking, they can do it in a way that would relieve congestion on Fourth by placing the structure entrances on Fifth Street, Davis said.

A city-sanctioned task force that created the Downtown Parking Program identified the areas between Fourth Court and Seventh Court from Wilshire Boulevard to Broadway as areas where future parking structures should be located, causing people to go further outside of the core of Downtown where pedestrian and vehicular activity is low, Miriam Mack, the economic development manager, said.

“So we began looking within that area for properties that were underutilized and that were not recently developed and began to strategically approach the property owners,” Mack said. “The result is that we were able to assemble a reasonable piece of property on Fifth.”

Councilman Bob Holbrook sees movie theaters as a preferred use if the properties are not tapped for parking, pointing out the need for new cinemas with state-of-the-art technology in Downtown.

“Two things made the promenade really go — parking available and the theaters to draw people to Downtown and the restaurants and other retail grew out of that fast,” Holbrook said.

Councilwoman Pam O’Connor said officials will need to take a comprehensive look at all city-owned resources in Downtown before making a decision about the future of the surplus properties on Fifth Street.

“There’s a lot of opportunities there that we have to give thought for,” O’Connor said. “It could be for cultural uses but again, the core of this has to do with managing parking, understanding how much parking is enough, where are the best places to do it and how that relates to existing resources.”

melodyh@smdp.com

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