Christopher Alan founded his automated parking system company, Auto Parkit, in 2009 after he struggled to accommodate parking for 113 vehicles at a Burbank high-rise he was developing on Olive Avenue.
He realized that an automated parking system — one in which drivers drop off their car and a lift mechanism maneuvers the vehicles into an underground storage area — was the perfect solution, because it required fewer subterranean parking
levels than a conventional parking structure. Alan’s autonomous parking system automatically shuffles the cars around on platforms up and down between four floors.
“You can park twice as many cars in the same space,” Alan said.
Now, Alan’s Auto Parkit, which was based in Van Nuys until its recent relocation to Gorman, and other automated parking companies are in demand as stacked parking systems are gaining traction with Los Angeles developers, who see them as a way to maximize space and add convenience for drivers.
“It’s one of the many solutions that you can have,” said developer Wally Marks. “I can park more cars in the same envelope than my competitors. We’re able to get 50% more cars. Concrete parking structures are yesterday’s design.”
As urban land becomes ever more scarce and expensive in Los Angeles, developers such as Marks are turning to automated systems as solutions for onsite parking.
Marks has two projects in the works that will include an automated system. The first is the Mirabel, a 42-story Miracle Mile multifamily complex at 5411 Wilshire Blvd. The 348-unit residential tower, which will cost more than $500 million, is currently in the environmental impact report phase. The Mirabel will take three years to build, and its parking garage will accommodate 468 cars.
Marks’ other project, at 8787 Venice Blvd. in Venice, will include 73 apartments with 11 affordable units and 70,000 square feet of commercial space. Construction will begin next year and take two and a half years. Its parking garage will accommodate 300 cars.
Marks said he was sold on automated parking shortly after his first conversation with Auto Parkit’s Alan.
“I recognized many great features in the first 10 minutes,” Marks said. “I could see how this is really different. I’m not a partner in the firm, I’m just a client. I believe in it. His design and his approach to the parking-need issue make a lot of sense to me.”
Other companies working in the field include downtown-based Automated Parking Solution, CityLift Parking, Park Plus Inc. and Utron.
Marks is no stranger to Auto Parkit’s automated parking system. He installed the system seven years ago at his Helms Bakery property in Culver City
“It’s a game changer,” Marks said of Alan’s system. “You get out of your car and the lifts will park your car three dimensionally. The new versions will charge your EV.
Located near Helms Bakery, the three-level above-ground system can hold 400 cars.
Form follows parking
Michael Bohn is a partner at Long Beach-based architecture firm Studio One Eleven, which is also working on automated parking systems. It has a tower project at 615 Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach that will include a system capable of holding 265 vehicles.
“It really made a lot of sense to us,” Bohn said. “We have less and less land to develop. The need to use parking in a more efficient way is really important. There’s a saying among architects that form follows parking.”
Bohn added that incorporating an automated parking system had a major benefit.
“When we looked at it conventionally, it was 11 levels of parking,” Bohn said of 615 Ocean Blvd. “When we looked at it with the automated parking, we ended up with six levels … There’s like a 40% to 50% savings just in area and volume.”
Marks said that drivers are not intimidated by the parking technology.
“People are enamored with the technology,” Marks said. “They recognize that there are many, many benefits besides the ecological benefits. There’s no cars driving up. There’s no emissions. Your car stays off.”
Safety, he said, is another benefit.
“Your car is safe,” Marks said. “The birds can’t get to it. No one is going to ding your car. No one is going to steal your catalytic converter]
Alan said that a major benefit of Auto Parkit’s system is that it relies on electric motors to shuffle cars around.
“We don’t employ robotics and we don’t employ hydraulics for the sole purpose of being able to predict failures, so you don’t have failures,” Alan said. “Electric motors are different.”
In case of a power outage, a back-up generator will kick in to ensure that there is no disruption to the system.
“We did the pilot program for automated parking for the city of Los Angeles 10 years ago,” he added , referring to the Burbank Boulevard facility in Sherman Oaks. “That system is still up and running
Alan is currently creating Auto Parkit systems for Beverly Hills and Chinatown and has installed systems all over downtown Los Angeles. Agreeing with Marks, he stressed the environmentally friendly aspects of his systems.
“Cars are not using gas,” Alan said. “They’re not burning fuel. There’s no emissions. There’s very little energy consumption. We don’t have lights on 24 hours a day. So it’s environmentally beneficial. It uses significantly less energy than a traditional parking structure, about 60% less electricity.”
“There’s less operating costs,” Bohn, of Studio One Eleven, added. “You don’t have to light the space that the cars are in. The ventilation is less because now you don’t have cars emitting carbon dioxide, so to vent the air is significantly less. And then you need no electricity. Day or night, no one needs to be in there to maintain it. It can be pitch black.”
There’s also the safety aspect.
“It’s a much better user experience,” Alan said. “You don’t have to remember where you parked your car. You don’t have to worry about someone breaking the window and stealing, because it’s secure. You don’t have to remember where you parked it because all you’re going to do is touch your iPhone app or wave your key fob and it’s going to come back to you.”
As with Marks, many developers who have installed Auto Parkit systems have come back to the company for other projects.
“We have a lot of repeat business with all of our clients,” Alan said.
Beyond Los Angeles, the company has projects completed or under construction in Florida, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Auto Parkit has also created a system in Detroit for Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who is converting the former Detroit Free Press newspaper building into apartments.
“We did a parking system in the original three-story basement where the printing presses used to be,” Alan said.
Alan is especially proud of the EV component of his automated parking systems.
“We developed and patented new EV charging technology,” Alan said. Using the Mirabel as an example, Alan continued: “Instead of one car for one charger, our technology allows us to charge up to 10 cars with a single charger.”
Yair Goldberg represents Utron (formerly Unitronics), which has created parking systems in West Hollywood and Santa Monica. He noted the benefits of the user experience.
“We’re providing a valet system without a valet,” Goldberg said. “A system where you drop off your vehicle and the system takes it away and brings it back to you without anyone going through your glove compartment.”
Based in New Jersey, Utron was formed in 2001. Goldberg said real estate developers are reaching out to the company either directly or through their architects.
“Demand is increasing, acceptance is increasing,” Goldberg said. “Municipalities are adopting codes and standards to put this in their building codes.”
As acceptance for their systems grows, the entrepreneurs behind automated parking enjoy creating systems that yield benefits on multiple levels.
“I love to build, but I love to do things that are good for communities, things that are good for people and things that are good for the environment,” Alan said. “I’m fortunate that this technology that I developed lends itself to all of those things.”