From car pool to swimming pool, from windscreen to sunscreen. During the summer months, the roof level of the multi-storey car park at the Hamburger Meile shopping centre transforms into a beach club. Fine sand covers the concrete on the 13th floor. Palm trees and parasols provide shade for visitors as they relax in lounge chairs, cocktail in hand – or a non-alcoholic drink for drivers, who can park their car right in front of the door. Whether it’s soaking up a little sun over lunch or chilling out with friends after work – the car park is becoming a hot spot that promises fun and relaxation with a view. A successful change of use that car park company Contipark has implemented in Hamburg and other cities. Multi-storey roofs in Hanover, Augsburg and Berlin are rented to restaurateurs.
Contipark went even further in Cologne: the multi-storey car park on Friesenplatz in the city centre had not been running at full capacity for years, so the company decided to remove the top two of the four parking floors and replace them with three levels of housing. 450 parking spaces were reduced to 250 cost-effective spaces and improved. A number of them are now exclusively available to tenants of the 31 new owner-occupied apartments.
Parking facility management is not a sure-fire success. It takes specialist expertise to make it work.
The owner’s perspective
Do multi-storey car parks need to go in a new direction these days due to shrinking demand? According to Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority, the number of private cars in Germany has risen steadily in recent years, going from 41 million cars in 2008 to 46 million in 2017. However, that does not mean that more parking space is necessary. Improved offerings in local public transport, carsharing, and e-commerce are changing people’s mobility behaviour.
“The market isn’t easy,” says Michael Kesseler, CEO of Contipark, a multi-storey car park operator. “Parking facility management is not a sure-fire success. These days it takes specialist expertise to make it work. You have to take appropriate measures.” As part of the Interparking Group, one of Europe’s largest multi-storey car park operators, Contipark is using its 50 years of experience to manage more than 500 properties today. Its corporate purpose is to acquire or build multi-storey car parks in order to operate and develop them. “As the owner, you have an entirely different perspective on the property,” says Kesseler. The company only occasionally decides to partially change the use of a property, as in the case of the beach club and apartments.
Often it’s enough to update the car parks, many of which were built in the 1960s or 70s, to meet modern standards and make them profitable again. Since primary revenues must be generated through parking fees, the car park must be made as appealing as possible to customers so they want to come back. The cost-effectiveness and user-friendliness of multi-storeys are closely related, confirms Ulrich Klaus Becker, Vice President for Transport at Germany’s largest automobile club, ADAC, in the foreword to the association’s brochure “User-Friendly Car Parks.” “Investments in service quality, safety and cleanliness are always worthwhile.” Important features from a user’s perspective include inexpensive prices, appealing location, easy-to-navigate ramps and driving lanes, and of course sufficiently wide parking spaces – at least 2.50 metres according to today’s standards.
Specialists like Norbert Löffler, Head of Building Advisory and Project Management at property service provider Apleona GVA, advise investors when purchasing a multi-storey car park. We analyse all the issues around legislation, construction and building technology and determine the need for investments in the property,” says Löffler. This includes not only structural restoration, but also a user-friendly colour and lighting solution.
Nevertheless, multi-storey car parks are not as simple an in-vestment as people often assume. “Many car parks entail hidden risks – for example due to complex ownership structures, legal requirements regarding technical systems and fire safety or potential chloride contamination,” warns Löffler, who always recommends a careful review. In London, however, Andrew Bailey is still seeing growing demand for car park properties. “We are seeing a great deal of interest among investors,” says the Director of Welpark, a new business unit of Apleona HSG, which offers parking management for UK customers. “The challenge lies in ensuring that the economic offering is aligned with the demographic profile of the catchment area.” If the location, demand and customer profile all fit well, it is possible to earn higher yields with multi-storey car parks than with other properties, he notes.
Key concern: parking fees
According to a parking fee comparison by Ubeeqo, a mobility platform, the average cost of parking in London was €10.40 per hour in 2016. Munich came in at €4.20, and in Berlin motorists were paying a mere €2 on average. “Germans are very price-sensitive,” states Michael Kesseler. At the end of March 2017, Contipark conducted a representative survey of German drivers. The result confirms ADAC’s findings from several years previously that customers prioritise cheaper rates over other considerations.
That’s why Kesseler can be confident, “Contipark’s strategy of going against the trend and reducing parking fees is exactly what drivers want.” Having said that, there are some customers who are certainly willing to pay extra for special services. Take one example in Berlin: on a Monday afternoon during the summer, the digital display at the KaDeWe car park shows 83 normal parking spaces available and nine VIP spaces. Despite having a plethora of cheaper parking spaces to choose from, a car driving in pulls straight into the more expensive separate VIP area. The parking space is far larger here, offers sufficient room for manoeuvre and a much shorter walk to the lift. Contipark has been running the KaDeWe multi-storey car park since 2012, and has been able to significantly improve its reputation and win new customers through extensive remodelling. The lower level was hardly used in the past, but now a new LED lighting solution has made it bright and appealing. Wide markings on floors and walls make parking easier. Where in the past only two cars were often parked between pillars with a wide safety margin, three cars can be parked now. Additional service improvements such as a more accessible payment machine, an umbrella vending machine, an automatic shoeshiner and an on-site carwash are all new. Contipark would also like to purchase this property, but is only renting it at the moment.
Unlocking economic potential
Apcoa Parking Deutschland is pursuing another strategy. The company, which is backed by an investor group led by Centerbridge, is leaseholder and operator of around 350 multi-storey car parks in Germany. Apcoa manages more than 1.4 million parking spaces in twelve countries in Europe and is the car park operator at more than 30 European airports. The Stuttgart-based company has developed a new commercial asset management tool for advising property owners which highlights a multi-storey’s potential and defines specific measures to increase its profitability. “We begin by conducting an analysis of the car park’s utilisation, competitiveness and access roads,” explains Apcoa’s Marketing Director Tilman Kube. “Results of customer surveys are also used to improve the parking areas.” In addition, the company searches for new customer groups such as employees of nearby companies or people going to the gym. And property owners and operators are unanimous in declaring Apcoa’s strategy a success. “Expiring contracts are now enjoying a renewal rate of nearly 100 percent,” explains Detlef Wilmer, Managing Director of Apcoa Parking Deutschland. Creative acquisition approaches also include multimodal solutions such as renting parking spaces to carsharing and rent-a-bike providers or allowing logistics companies to utilise the area outside of core hours.
However, renovating and modernising car parks comes at a price. In 2016, Apcoa invested €5 million in digitising 50 properties in Germany alone. Another €5 million will follow in 2017 for 50 more locations. The investments flow primarily into setting up barrier-free entrance and exit systems coupled with electronic billing at the end of the month. To use the system, registered users attach a chip to their windscreen that communicates with a transponder in the car park. The gates then open automatically. The entire parking process is quick and painless, which regular customers definitely appreciate. Contipark has been using a customer loyalty tool since 2007: the P Card. The Berlin-based company was the first in the industry to introduce the digital parking service and will have around 400 locations connected by the end of this year. Today more than 130,000 customers use their P Card to open the gate and have their parking fees debited from their bank account at the end of each month. It’s certainly worth it, because P Card holders can save up to 50 percent per parking session as registered users. People can also choose to reserve their parking space online. As an additional service for P Card customers in train station multi-storey car parks, they can use the DB Bahn Parking app to extend their parking time as needed and make cashless payments with their smartphone or tablet.
Multi-storey car parks aren’t shying away from using blockchain technology either (see pages 28-31). Beos, the real estate company, plans to launch a pilot project that will test billing through this kind of decentralised database protocol and at the same time aims to capture precise usage times. This would eliminate monthly parking space rentals since only the actual parking time would be invoiced. It’s only a question of time before apps or navigation devices not only show the next multi-storey car park, but also lead directly to an available parking space.
The future is digital and automated
But when will we see car parks for self-driving cars? It looks like automatic parallel parking is one of the first steps in the future trend of self-driving cars. “We are currently planning several pilot projects together with the German Association of the Automotive Industry,” says Gerhard Trost-Heutmekers, Director of the German Parking Association. Test multi-storey car parks will be built exclusively for autonomous vehicles. Development of the individual interfaces will be very important because self-driving cars will have to be able to fit in extremely narrow parking spaces, so the technological solutions from the individual car manufacturers need to be aligned.
Regulatory, architectural and countless other issues will also need to be clarified. Trost-Heutmekers doesn’t, however, believe that cars which look for their own parking spaces will affect the industry right away. “It’s a process. We’ll work on it step-by-step and see that everything goes well.”
Pilot projects, modernisations, parking space marketing, services, digitisation and automation – there are many hot topics in parking area management. Andrew Bailey breaks them all down to one common denominator. “Parking is about convenience,” says the expert from Apleona. “So any services that provide this will add value to an asset.” Now every storey of the car park is part of the chill-out zone.