Innovative parking garage boasts a number of "firsts"

Chris Leighton, ParkWise Manager, and Jennifer Gillaspie, Procurement Administrator, City of Tucson, Arizona; Presenters, 2006 APWA Congress

The Pennington Street Garage, located in the heart of downtown Tucson, Arizona, is a visionary project that is answering an important parking need while playing an instrumental role in revitalizing Tucson's city center. The garage is an exemplary project for its use of innovative technology, "green" building principles, an efficient project delivery system built on strong partnerships between the public and private sectors, and its role in the revitalization of a major metropolitan downtown. As the largest municipally owned solar-powered facility in the State of Arizona, the Pennington Street Garage has become a model for green building—particularly green building in the public sector.

The garage is a mixed-use facility with approximately 750 covered parking spaces and 12,000 square feet of ground floor office and restaurant space. It boasts a number of "firsts" for Tucson, including:

  • First City of Tucson design-build project
  • First downtown public/private parking structure
  • First solar-powered parking facility
  • First downtown mixed-use retail project
  • First downtown merchant parking validation program
  • First new parking structure downtown in 10 years

The Pennington Street Garage was built using innovative, sustainable technology to minimize impact on Tucson's sensitive desert environment while maximizing benefits to downtown workers, residents and visitors. The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards were used to guide many aspects of the project. One of the building's highlights is its solar-powered lighting system, which keeps the facility safe and well-lit 24 hours a day. From the beginning, it was decided that utilizing sunlight—a plentiful resource in this sunny, southwestern city—was a top priority and essential to the community's well-being.

On a practical level, the challenge was to ensure that the system would be both environmentally friendly and affordable. Thanks to the participation of Tucson Electric Power, the garage boasts a 65 KW photovoltaic system that produces the lowest-ever cost per kilowatt-hour for solar power generation. The system uses sunlight during the day to offset the power used by the building, allowing the garage to be kept safe and well-lit at night—at a fraction of the cost of traditional systems.

Recycling was another innovative approach to minimizing environmental impact. Instead of sending most of the project's waste to a landfill, the former City Annex building, which was demolished to make way for the Pennington Street Garage, was ground up and used to fill the site. All of the steel from the demolished building was recycled and some components of the original building, such as corrugated glass railing and terrazzo tile entry, were salvaged and reused in the new structure. When recycled/salvaged materials weren't possible, every effort was made to choose the most environmentally friendly options available. For example, LEED-certified bamboo flooring was chosen for the garage's ground floor office space, along with polished concrete floors and LEED-certified carpets.

Along Pennington Street, the building features a 20-foot-wide arcade to shade pedestrians from the sun. The arcade and adjacent commercial and restaurant space are having an important impact on downtown by encouraging more street life and pedestrian activity—essential ingredients for a thriving city center.

Even the garage's design is green—literally and conceptually. The outward look is consistent with one of Tucson's unique architectural styles—a version of art deco sometimes called pueblo deco. The colors of the garage are consistent with the bright, vibrant look of downtown and the surrounding Sonoran Desert. The dominant hues are green, to reflect the desert's foliage, and the brilliant red of many cactus flowers and fruits.

Local artist Simon Donovan was involved with the design-build team from the beginning of the project and created several pieces of stimulating visual art for the building. Over a quarter of a million blue marbles, sandwiched between two sheets of perforated metal, act like stained glass windows on the building. The marbles reflect sunlight as it shines through in the daytime, and the marbles take on a magnificent glow at night because of special theatre lighting installed inside the garage. Customers find the art fun to touch and play with as the marbles roll around in place.

You may be thinking that a facility with so many innovative features could not have been built by a municipal agency, what with all the usual red tape and bureaucracy. In fact, thanks to a recent change in state law, Arizona's public agencies have the ability to use qualifications-based project delivery methods such as design-build as alternatives to the more traditional design, bid, build method of project delivery. Design-build allows the owner to purchase design and construction as a best value rather than as a commodity. For the Pennington project, the decision to use design-build allowed the City to select the most qualified team to design and build the project. Having the designer and the contractor under a single contract allowed for a collaborative approach to resolving issues and implementing creative solutions that was pivotal to the success of the project.

The first step in delivering the project was developing the design specifications that would ensure the resulting structure would meet the City's needs. A parking consultant was hired to develop detailed specifications that were included in the solicitation for the design-build firm.

To select the most qualified design-build team, the City published a Request for Qualifications on the City's website. Notices were also sent by mail to firms registered with the City. The six firms that responded were evaluated by a selection committee and shortlisted based on their qualifications. The top three firms submitted proposals, which were evaluated and ranked by the committee. The City successfully negotiated a Guaranteed Maximum Price with the team of D.L. Withers and Dick & Fritsche Design Group.

There were many challenges involved in building the Pennington Street Garage. The project's location in a dense urban environment presented several challenges that the team successfully overcame. One of these involved the foundation of a historic building located next to the garage construction site. Supporting piers planned for the garage were reduced in size (more piers were added to support the garage's weight) to avoid damaging the sensitive rubble foundation of the adjacent historic building. Tucson Electric Power, the local electrical utility, did its part by applying a creative approach to relocating electrical lines under the center of the building to assist in providing special access for utilities.

What ensured the project's success were the excellent construction management techniques and strong, cooperative relationships formed between team members. The result is an innovative, environmentally responsible building that adds 750 much-needed covered parking spaces to downtown—all for a very affordable final cost of $12 million.

In summary, the Pennington Street Garage offers an innovative and unique approach to a downtown development challenge: creating much-needed parking in a dense urban environment while using sustainable technology, green building practices and cooperation between the public and private sectors. The garage is an excellent example not just of green building, but also of green building successfully applied to a large-scale urban project. Solar-powered lighting, an automated entry and exit system, and environmentally-friendly building standards present ideas that others could easily modify for their downtown circumstances. The goal of the Pennington Street Garage project—to answer downtown Tucson's growing parking need with a unique, energy-efficient design—has been achieved.

The Pennington Street Garage is a major accomplishment made possible by strong public-private partnerships and a multidisciplinary team approach. The team includes:

  • Dick & Fritsche Design Group - Architect
  • D.L. Withers - General Contractor
  • American Solar Electric Company - Solar Lighting Subcontractor
  • Tucson Electric Power, Tucson Downtown Alliance, Cafe Poca Cosa, and the downtown residents and business community - Community Partners
  • Simon Donovan - Public Artist
  • City of Tucson - Public Partner

Chris Leighton and Jennifer Gillaspie will give a presentation on this topic at the 2006 APWA Congress. Their session is entitled "Tour the Award-Winning Pennington Street Garage" and takes place on Monday, September 11, at 10:00 a.m. Chris Leighton can be reached at (520) 791-5071 or; Jennifer Gillaspie can be reached at (520) 791-4400 or