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Want Deed to Park Place?

Residents of a new downtown high-rise condo project can buy their own vehicle space -- for $20,000. It's so not L.A., many say.

November 09, 2005|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

When David Kean got home from his shopping spree Sunday, he immediately went online.

"Well, I spent 40K today," wrote Kean, a real estate agent, in a post on the website LoftLA.com. "Expensive weekend."

Pricey jewelry? Luxury car?

No, parking spaces.

Kean is a future resident of 1100 Wilshire, a swanky high-rise condo development downtown. And for his $40,000, he bought the right to park his Mercedes CLK coupe and Lincoln Aviator in two spaces on the sixth floor of his building.

Not long ago in car-friendly Los Angeles, free parking seemed like a birthright.

But the real estate boom has hit even the parking lot.

1100 Wilshire is selling parking spots for $15,000 to $20,000 a pop, offering new residents, who are paying $400,000 to $1 million for their units, the chance to wrap the cost of their spaces into their mortgages.

Such prices may have been standard in tony sections of New York, Boston and San Francisco, long known for their walk-able downtowns and elaborate public transportation systems. But in Los Angeles -- home to some of the world's first parking garages as well as those sprawling postwar shopping mall parking lots -- the price tags are raising some eyebrows.

Real estate professionals said the setup seems unusual -- even along the canyon of high-rise condos in West Los Angeles. Shel Kirschner, an agent with Coldwell Banker in West Los Angeles, said that he hadn't heard of selling parking spaces separately from condo units.

"If you buy a unit in any of condos on the Westside, 90% of the time, you do have assigned parking" included with the purchase price, he said.

Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, said the arrangement "is bringing us more into line with what other big cities are doing."

By charging separately for parking, said Shoup, author of "The High Cost of Free Parking," 1100 Wilshire in effect encourages use of public transportation by residents of the building, which is just a few blocks from a Metro subway stop.

"Unbundling the parking gives people a new choice," said Shoup. "Maybe it will deter people who want to own three cars, and encourage people who own only one. This is exactly the direction L.A. ought to be moving: People who use less parking pay less for housing."

In other cities, "it would be unthinkable to have the parking thrown in for free. It would turn it into L.A."

Residents of the 1100 building get two unassigned spaces with their purchase price, said Kevin Ratner, a senior vice president of Forest City Enterprises, which is developing the project.

But the building's design requires drivers to climb a four-story "speed ramp" before parking on the fifth through 16th floors. The unassigned spaces are on the higher floors -- and just getting to them could be enough to induce acrophobia.

Hence the premium parking.

"You can buy your way down in the building," said Ratner. "I would do it if I were buying there. When you roll it into the mortgage, the monthly impact is comparable to what you would pay for parking. And for resale, it's great."

While urban planners might hope the high prices will drive some residents to mass transit, early evidence suggests otherwise.

Developer Forest City rolled out the parking program just a few weeks ago, and the response has been positive, Ratner said.

"You can buy more than two spaces ... you could have more than two cars. It is a car-centric town," he said. "Maybe your husband has a couple of hot rods."

In downtown Los Angeles, where parking has long been at a premium, some say the 1100 Wilshire prices are just another necessary evil. Many lots downtown charge $100 or more per month for parking. Residents of the Higgins Building at 2nd and Main streets recently voted to charge themselves a condo fee of $65 a month to pay for a valet for themselves and their guests.

Kean, the 1100 Wilshire condo owner who purchased two spaces, said he is guaranteeing himself an easy ride home. "Otherwise, you come home late, and you have to circle up to the 11th floor.... It's a mile up."

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