Paris discourages use of cars so underground parking garages need to change

If Paris has fewer cars on its streets, what happens to its underground parking?

Photo by Daniel Frese on

Today Indigo operates 2,700 garages on three continents. But it’s here in Paris, where the company now manages more than a third of publicly accessible garage parking, that Indigo is beginning to develop a new underground commercial ecosystem. There are car repair shops, car rental offices, and click-and-collect lockers from Amazon. Larger-scale ventures the company is pioneering for lower levels include storage facilities and data centers. One private, non-Indigo garage has even been turned into a farm for mushrooms and endives.

Retrofitting parking is complicated, said Arnaud Viardin, Indigo’s director of partnerships. Counterintuitively, garage floors have less load-bearing capacity than homes or offices. Garages also have very low ceilings, threaded with beams and utility conduits that can limit adaptive reuse: It’s hard to market a storage facility that’s not accessible by box truck. Energy-intensive vehicle chargers require drilling through concrete to lay new electrical cables, and just about anything you do demands a time-consuming review with the Fire Department. Rarely do these new leases pay more than a constant stream of drivers charged hourly parking rates. But they pay more than an empty parking garage.

Indigo’s underground real estate has few competitors. Hundreds of thousands of square feet are now dedicated to alternative uses across France, mostly in Paris. “Finding real estate under Place Vendôme, under Place Dauphine?” Fraisse put it to me, pointing to two of the capital’s ritziest addresses. “We’re capable of proposing square footage at prices that have nothing to do with what you’ll find aboveground. Ten, 20, 50 times cheaper.”…

For logistics clients, the value of Indigo’s space is hard to beat. MonMarché is a spinoff of a larger French grocery chain, Grand Frais, whose stores are suburban big boxes with ample parking. “We had to find another solution for the Parisian market, which is the biggest,” said Demond, slicing open the packing tape on a Styrofoam box of durian, the odoriferous East Asian fruit. “The cost of real estate is so high.”

Cities have gone underground for numerous reasons: space above ground is limited, certain land uses are less desirable, underground uses can be more efficient. Putting cars underground made a lot of sense in previous decades when there was a lot of traffic and parking aboveground takes up a lot of space.

How far can underground redevelopment of parking garages go? Would people be willing to spend long amounts of time in such spaces if they were adapted for commercial, office, or residential use?

If these underground spaces become desirable opportunities, how high might rents and resale values go?

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