A study of parking in downtown Baton Rouge found that drivers are over-utilizing free and metered spaces on the streets and are less likely to use garages and paid parking lots.

“The on-street parking is saturated. There’s no excess supply,” Robert Schmidt, associate vice president and director of operations transportation for AECOM, told the Downtown Development District Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning. The meeting was held in the Holiday Inn Express, the 88-room hotel that opened two weeks ago.

Overall, there’s enough parking downtown to accommodate the activity downtown and future development, Schmidt said. It’s just that the existing supply of parking spaces isn’t as efficiently allocated as it should be.

Because on-street parking is so heavily used, there’s a perception of overall scarcity, he said. “If you’re used to going downtown and looking for on-street parking and you can’t find a space, you think ‘Wow, we have a parking problem.’,” Schmidt said.

The study found a number of policy changes could be implemented to help the parking situation downtown, such as:

  • Stepping up the monitoring of parking meters to create more turnover
  • Financing strategically located public parking structures in busy areas
  • Expanding trolley service so people can park in areas during slow times and take a bus to a busy destination. One example would be parking at the River Center during a weekday and riding a trolley to the State Capitol
  • Developing shared parking concepts, so spaces can be used by downtown workers during the day and by people visiting downtown attractions and restaurants on nights and weekends.

Davis Rhorer, executive director of the DDD, said some of these measures are already underway. Parking meters will be installed on Third Street next week to prevent motorists from just taking over spots in the middle of the arts and entertainment district. There’s also talk that the new parking meters that will be installed downtown will include apps to let drivers know when spaces are available.

“We need to do a better, efficient use of parking down here,” Rhorer said. “We need to be very smart about using those garages. As things develop, we need to be able to use these things at night.”

In other items that came before the DDD:

ONYX RESIDENCES: three tenants were announced for the mixed-use apartment building under construction at Third and Convention streets. IberiaBank, Kean’s Fine Dry Cleaning and Regal Nails will all have locations in the Onyx Residences, which is set to open in the first half of 2016.

This will be the first branch downtown for IberiaBank, said Tamara Palmer, who will serve as branch manager. Palmer said the downtown branch will have a look and feel like an Apple store instead of a traditional bank, with tables instead of teller lines. IberiaBank plans to open an ATM downtown before the end of the year.

The retailers will take up about 3,000 square feet in the Onyx Residences, said Tina Rance, who handles leasing and marketing for Commercial Properties Realty Trust, which is developing the 28-unit building. About 1,800 square feet remain and Rance said Commercial Properties is negotiating with a tenant to take up the space.

COMMERCE BUILDING: Michael Lang, development manager, provided an update on the $20 million redevelopment. Lang said he’s negotiating with a local user who wants to put a “European-style cafe and bistro with outdoor seating” at the Commerce Building’s residential entrance. “We think that will be a real nice use for that corner at Third and Laurel streets,” he said. Lang said he’s also looking for a restaurant to occupy a space on the building’s rooftop.

Plans are to have 93 apartments on the building. Lang said pre-leasing will begin in October or November, and tenants will start moving in January.

COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT: The DDD voted in favor of a special tax increment financing district for the 137-room hotel, which will be built at the corner of Third and Florida streets. The Courtyard, which is set to open in fall 2016, is seeking a rebate of the 2 percent sales tax on rooms from East Baton Rouge Parish government. The creation of the taxing district allows the property to levy an additional 2-cent sales tax on rooms and goods sold that will help offset their costs. The Metro Council is set to vote on the hotel TIF at its July 22 meeting.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate