The following is in no way intended to disparage the amazing work and expansion of one of our greatest Rochester institutions. While The Strong Museum of Play is mentioned often in this piece, this is a story about parking and how much it costs us, not about The Strong. As long as we, as a nation, continue to ask for convenient parking in our cities above all else, decisions to add parking at an unimaginable cost are unfortunately necessary for cities, businesses, even non-profits like The Strong.
The real cost of creating and maintaining parking is often elusive, nebulous and thus unappreciated. The positive here is that, with this project, we can see just how much parking will cost every contributor and every visitor that walks through the doors of the new expansion. Once more, this isn’t the fault of The Strong… this is the result of a nation that demands convenient parking without consciously identifying the cost.
The Strong Museum of Play, home to the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester is one of the most popular attractions for families in New York State. As one of only a few family-based options in the city’s core, it provides a much needed resource in our community and a welcoming piece in our complex urban fabric. And as if this wonderful resource wasn’t good enough, The Strong has a new $60 million “Power by Play” expansion campaign in the works that they say will add up to 400,000 visitors to the already robust 550,000 visitors they see annually. This increase is projected to drive an additional $130 million into Rochester’s economy, a much needed lift for a city that continues its rise, but is still haunted by the struggles of deep financial constraints.
While The Strong’s expansion will add a new dimension to the museum and a new neighborhood to Rochester in a portion of the former Inner Loop, the $60 million price tag comes with an interesting note… 43% of this cost, by far the highest portion of this budget, is set aside for the construction of a parking garage for visitors of the museum and proposed hotel. As shown in the breakdown below, that is twice as much as the second highest cost on the pie chart.
Collectively, exhibit development, classrooms, labs and workshop areas, educational programming and outreach are committed a mere $11 million, just 18% of the budget, a far cry from the 43% devoted to parking.
True, the expanded cost of a parking garage permits greater density in the area by building “up instead of out,” but the remarkably high percentage of the total cost devoted to the garage is staggering. Thirty-four percent of The Strong’s 2018 budget funding will come from ticket sales and memberships. If more visitors and contributors were aware that such a large percentage of their dollars went to simply storing cars, perhaps they would be more inclined to utilize the services of an existing garage, like the city-owned option across the street from the museum.
This sticker shock elicited by the cost of parking in this expansion project is eclipsed only by the fact that we, as a nation, are inclined to tolerate these costs with a business-as-usual attitude. In a world where we question every dollar spent on transit or alternatives to the automobile, we are more than happy to look the other way when our budgets for parking cars far outweigh the expenditures on other important services that might make our city, and in this case our programming, cheaper and better. In a world where the difference between walking a city block and parking next door becomes the primary cost of any construction budget, and thus every ticket price, we show where our priorities are, or rather aren’t.
The Strong is incorporating this expensive garage into their budget because they believe this is what families desire when visiting their wonderful facility. And as a destination for hundreds of thousands of people every year from all over the region, they are probably right to do so. The question is whether we as a city and as a nation can look at the crooked numbers above and see the enormously high and seldom-realized cost of parking in our urban areas. Our insistence on parking convenience is directly related to inflated costs of goods and services, the limitation of those services, and increased overhead costs that must be ultimately passed on to all of us.
The Strong is doing what it has to for it’s future. It is up to us to see first hand just how much parking costs our cities, our institutions, and thus all of us, and start seeking a better solution as we move forward.