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Despite parking problems, new garage remains nearly unused

Maybe parking at USF isn’t as bad as students think.

Parking Garage III, which opened in early December and added 1,000 spots to the campus, has remained mostly vacant during the first week of class.

“I’m guessing about three-fourths of the southern half of the first floor is being used regularly this week,” Parking and Transportation Director Manuel Lopez said. “We haven’t done any formal counts, but I’d guess that about 75 cars a day are using it.”

Meanwhile, the other two campus garages remain mostly full during peak hours, as does the Sun Dome parking lot and lot 29B, which is located behind the Library.

The new garage, located by the intersection of Holly and Magnolia Drive near the Fine Arts Building, is far from popular student destinations such as the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, Cooper Hall and the Library.

Lopez doesn’t believe that’s necessarily the cause of low usage.

“I just think people haven’t realized it’s there yet,” he said. “We’ll get complaints about not finding a parking spot and we’ll tell them about the new garage, and they’ll say, ‘What garage?'”

To get the message out, officials have been relying on word of mouth and new signs. Lopez also said permit pick-up should help because the new garage is clearly visible from the Parking and Transportation office.

“We’re hoping that raises awareness,” he said.

Lopez said there was never an expectation that the garage would be filled to capacity this soon after its construction.

“The big draw is going to be the new Fine Arts building, the Center for Advanced Health Care and (the H. Lee) Moffitt (Cancer Center),” Lopez said.

In that case, the garage may not reach capacity – or even come close – this semester. The new fine arts building isn’t supposed to begin construction until late summer, and the Center for Advanced Health Care, which Lopez said has pledged to reserve 200 spaces, isn’t slated to open until next spring.

When the garage opened late last semester, it was used even less. The week before finals, less than 10 cars were usually parked there, Lopez said last semester. He expected the new semester to bring in more vehicles.

But during the first week of classes this semester, only about 5 percent of the spaces have been used daily.

The garage contains 1,490 spaces, 750 of which have been designated for student use. It was built on top of a 500-space parking lot, netting about 1,000 new spaces. There are now approximately 20,000 parking spaces on campus.

The garage cost $16 million to build, with students footing some of the bill. Last spring, the Board of Trustees approved a 20 percent price increase for all parking permits. It raised the price of an annual non-resident student permit from $105 to $126 and staff permits from $155 to $186.

A high percentage of Parking and Transportation Services’ revenue – part of which is used to build new garages – comes from parking permits. Some of the extra money will also be used to pay off construction debt for the next 20 years.

The BOT could approve another permit price increase in March, which would help pay for another new garage – Garage IV – that is slated to open sometime in 2008 near the Magnolia apartments and engineering buildings. The potential increase would add another 20 percent to permit prices, resulting in $151 for non-resident student permits and $223 for staff permits.

USF is also planning to build a fifth garage, but has yet to find a bidder or a location.