Neil Churchill, Center Director of Festival Place. Credit: Festival Place
Feature | Management | Opinion | Ticker

Unlocking the Value of Parking Assets as Key Components of Wider Shopping Experiences

“In today’s world, consumers expect quick and effortless service, and parking needs to reflect those changes”

By Neil Churchill

Though often unloved by users, shopping center parking garages have been beloved by investors for their dependability as a revenue stream. For the first time ever, that dependability was challenged as a result of the onset of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns. That should not, however, serve as justification for ignoring or under-investing in parking garages, according to Neil Churchill, Center Director of UK Top 20 Shopping Centre Festival Place (Basingstoke).

At the dawn of the UK shopping center revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, much was made of their convenience and accessibility by car. As the concept matured and car ownership increased exponentially, that “convenience and accessibility” evolved into an experience that could entail circling a busy parking garage, parking a long way from one’s desired location, and tackling the crowds throughout a busy center. Although many investors committed significant resources to upgrading the interiors of the original generation of shopping centers, the same level of attention was rarely directed toward parking garages. That resulted in outdated facilities that were no longer fit for purpose and, in extreme cases, became destinations for dangerous or anti-social behavior. Just as the ease and convenience of car parking had once been major factors in shopping centers’ appeal, they had, in some cases, become reasons to no longer visit a specific location.

In today’s world, consumers expect quick and effortless service, and parking needs to reflect those changes, given that it is often the first thing visitors experience when they go shopping. As a town center location with a wide catchment area, we have always been acutely aware of the role of parking in Festival Place’s ongoing success. One of our major pre-pandemic capital expenditure projects was a multimillion-pound refurbishment of the parking garage. The existing facilities were out of date and fell short of the wider retail and leisure experience as well as more recent technological advances.

The result: clean, modern, light, and intelligent – aimed at truly enhancing visitors’ experiences. Throughout the parking garage, the bays have been widened to allow for more spaces and comfort. Parking bay monitoring sensors have been installed to allow customers to see which bays are available or disabled, eventually helping them park more efficiently. Four car finding kiosks have also been installed within the shopping center, in the proximity of the elevators that lead to the parking garage, where customers can enter their registration details and be directed to the locations of their vehicles. Six electric charging units have been installed and are available 24/7.They have been used nearly 2,500 times since their installation. When the pandemic struck, a new, pressing need to keep customers safe and secure quickly arose. Increased security, with regular patrols taking place 24/7, and various safety measures around the parking garage have been implemented to help promote a safer shopping experience.

Those changes have delivered commercial, as well as experiential, benefits. Festival Place’s parking garage has seen a 12% increase in revenue, with nearly two million visitors in 2019, and it has recently been awarded the prestigious Park Mark Plus Award. While shopping centers, and the shopping experience in general, will continue to evolve to reflect people’s new habits, parking facilities should no longer be seen as secondary to an asset, but as a rather essential part of it. They will continue to evolve to meet the needs of customers, especially with respect to further ease of access, frictionless parking, and electric vehicle charging capacity. Those are all things that Festival Place is currently researching and reviewing.

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