August 25, 2006
Parking cars the sci-fi way
Philadelphia Business Journal - by Natalie Kostelni Staff Writer
The parking garage of the future, something the Jetsons would be proud of, is being planned for 1706 Rittenhouse Square St., a proposed 31-story condominium development in Center City.
The unique high-tech system is totally automated. The developers believe it will give them an edge in a residential market that is showing signs of waning as homes in Philadelphia are staying on the market longer than they were a year ago.
With the mechanical system -- also referred to as a robotic system -- a motorist pulls the vehicle into a two-story covered courtyard that will likely be decorated with paintings, perhaps even wallpaper. The vehicle is driven onto a large elevator, where the car is placed on a pallet and the driver gets out. Laser sensors detect motion in the car, ensuring a small child or pet is not accidentally left in the vehicle. The driver then swipes a programmed card much in the same way a hotel room card key is used, and that tells the system whose car it is parking.
The driver exits the elevator area and the vehicle is then spun around and lowered into an underground parking area. Instead of traditional parking spots, the vehicle, which remains on the pallet, is stacked and stored. The garage will have up to 64 vehicles vertically housed in rows on a steel racking system that is connected to a conveyer.
When the driver wants the car returned all it takes is one swipe of the programmed card and the system locates the vehicle. Voila! The vehicle rises from underground, is spun around into an exit position and is ready to be driven off within a minute of the initial card swipe. No scratches or dents, no coins pilfered.
"That's the beauty of it. No one is touching it," said Joe Zuritsky, chairman and CEO of Parkway Corp., one of Philadelphia's largest owners of parking garages and lots as well as a partner with Scannapieco Development Corp. in 1706 Rittenhouse. "I've been waiting for this all of my life."
The brand named Multiparker System is made by Wohr of Germany. While the system is becoming more common throughout Europe and the Far East, its prevalence isn't as widespread in the United States. It borrows from a warehousing storing process where items used in a manufacturing process are stored in cavernous warehouses on shelves that are connected to conveyers.
It will cost $8 million to construct and install the system, which will have 64 spaces, at 1706 Rittenhouse. Of that amount, $2.5 million goes for equipment alone.
"It's so expensive it's embarrassing," Zuritsky confessed.
But, it's worth it, both he and Tom Scannapieco say. It's likely to be used as a selling point for the $130 million project that entails constructing a 31-story tower with 29 condominiums priced between $3.5 million and $12 million for a two-story penthouse. At the upper echelon of condos in Center City, 1706 Rittenhouse enters the fray in a residential market that is experiencing a softening causing developers to work harder to snag buyers. While the spaces are guaranteed for those buying a condo at 1706 Rittenhouse, any left over spots will sell for $125,000 each.
In any market, parking is a must. The parcel at 1706 Rittenhouse, which is currently a Parkway Corp. surface lot, was too small for a traditional underground parking garage with ramps going in and out, Scannapieco said.
"We were dealing with a tight size," he said, adding the system turned out to be a "great urban solution" for parking on a constrained site.
While the system works for a residential project such as 1706 Rittenhouse, it's not something that would work well everywhere, Zuritsky said. Even though the one-minute per car turnaround is quick, that would be too cumbersome and long for a garage catering to a theater, for example, where, once the show is over, 300 people want their cars at the same time.