San Diego airport adds more parking spaces with three-level, high-tech garage

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Starting Friday, travelers and visitors heading to the airport will be able to park in a new three-level garage just steps from Terminal 2.

The culmination of a nearly two-year construction period, the 2,900-space, $127.8 million parking plaza replaces a previous surface lot located closest to the San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 2.

Besides offering covered parking at rates identical to the hourly and daily fees of the former lot, the garage is outfitted with a guidance system employing LED signs and colored lights to alert motorists to vacant spaces.

While the garage will initially represent a net gain of 1,715 spaces, that gain will turn to a loss later this year when the airport undertakes yet another project — a combination cargo, airline and airport maintenance facility that will occupy a portion of the long term lot where employees now park. Those workers, in turn, will have to start parking in the economy lot on Pacific Highway, which will be closed to the public.

The result will be a net loss of 230 spaces available to the public, said Jonathan Heller, spokesman for the San Diego Regional Airport Authority.

Even with the rise of ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft that offer relatively affordable transportation to and from the airport, the demand for on-site parking remains high, says April Boling, who chairs the Airport Authority board. As an example, she pointed to the 450 valet spaces that mid-week are nearly always full.

“When we had assessed our customer satisfaction several years ago, the area where the flying public had the least satisfaction was with parking and particularly close-up parking,” Boling said. “So we understood the need for a parking plaza immediately adjacent to the terminal and that’s what we’ve built.

“And the people who are parking in that plaza aren’t necessarily staying for an entire day, some might be picking up their relatives from Wisconsin and they want to park close up — we call them the meeters and greeters — and that’s way more than half of who is parking there. They’re not as price sensitive because they’re not paying the $32 a day.”

Another big chunk of those parking close to the terminal are business travelers, many of whom are flying to and from their destination in one or two days, Boling added.

Rates start at $2.50 for the first 30 minutes, rising to $6 for a full hour and increasing by $2 increments after that.

A key parking plaza feature that airport officials believe will resonate with the public is the system for guiding people to available spaces. As motorists enter the garage, there will be

signage quantifying the number of unoccupied spaces on each floor, and each level will also have signs with the same information.

The guidance system, similar to what is in place at the UTC Westfield mall garage, also employs colored lights — green and red — directing motorists to the available spaces. That system will ramp up over the next several weeks, said Marc Nichols, director of ground transportation for the airport.

There also is a smartphone app that allows people to reserve and pay for spaces in advance.

“I don’t think the garage will change the mix of travelers who are using it, but it will be much more convenient,” Nichols said. “The fact that it has two covered floors will also be very attractive, especially longer term travelers, and the fact that it has that guidance technology will make it much more efficient.”

Incorporated into the garage’s design are public art pieces, including one that is made up of brightly colored screens fashioned from hundreds of resin airplane models. The garage design is also notable for its glass-front elevators.

The project is being financed largely with parking and concession revenue. The current fiscal year budget estimates parking revenues at $40.6 million, which is expected to grow to $46 million in the coming fiscal year, Heller said.

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