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Boston parking garages are becoming a thing of the city’s past

Proposed Motor Mart Garage conversion latest example of officials and developers rethinking the standalone buildings

Government Center Garage, pre-demolition.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

The recent proposal to redevelop the Motor Mart Garage at 201 Stuart Street in downtown Boston—once the largest automobile garage on Earth—underscores just how far out of favor the conventional parking garage has fallen in Boston.

It’s not just that the city has been green-lighting proposal after proposal to redevelop the garages. It’s that there are so few new ones going up—and, when they are going up, they are invariably part of larger mixed-use complexes.

Take the garage planned at 100 Hood Park Drive in Charlestown. It is due to include 990 spots, but 75,000 square feet of retail, office, and laboratory space as well. It also happens to be the only new (sort of) standalone garage currently planned in the City of Boston. The rest are part of something much, much bigger.

There are others connected to state entities—the University of Massachusetts is constructing a 1,400-spot garage on University Drive West in Dorchester—but the idea of a new standalone parking garage approved by the city itself is just not on anymore.

Instead, any number of garages are currently being folded into new projects. Parking is still a big component—the car is still king in much of downtown Boston, despite the availability of mass transit and the city’s density—but parking is not the focus of these projects.

For instance, the partial demolition and conversion of the Government Center Garage at 50 Sudbury Street is reducing the number of spots there to around 1,100 from 2,300. That project is due to include 812 residential units, 196 hotel rooms, 1.15 million square feet of office space, and 85,000 square feet of retail.

There is also a proposal to turn the 698-space Dock Street Garage at 20 Clinton Street in downtown Boston into a project with 195 residential units. The number of spaces would drop to 538.

And then there are projects such as the one for the former site of the Winthrop Square Garage—former because the project, which will produce the city’s second-tallest residential building, meant doing away with the garage entirely. And it was the city that sold the doomed garage.

There are other garage conversions-slash-replacements proposed or underway, too, perhaps most prominently the on-again, off-again plans for something—anything—in place of the Boston Harbor Garage on the city’s waterfront.

Is it a sea change in Boston, this swerve from standalone garage construction? Maybe, given the city’s notorious reputation for traffic: Bostonians love their cars.

More than anything, though, it reflects a changing view of land use in Boston, including the reality that people want to not only work but live near and in core commercial areas. Hey, that way they don’t need a car. What’d you think?