Parking Facility

It is unclear exactly when students and faculty began to park automobiles on campus.  Students are noted as using automobiles, driven usually by their fathers, as transportation to and from other Iowa towns and cities by 1906.  Faculty members had cars by 1908.  As early as the fall term of 1924, at least eighty-five cars were being parked on campus.  A writer for the student newspaper, the College Eye, believed that three quarters of the cars belonged to students.  Campus officials have struggled with the problem of where to park student and faculty vehicles since that time.

The general response to the perceived need for parking has been to grade and then pave ground level space on the periphery of campus.  As enrollment grew, and as an increasing percentage of students brought cars to campus, the number of spaces also grew but generally not in locations that students deemed convenient.  The decades-long dialogue went something like this.

  • Students would say, "I can't find a place to park."
  • Administrative officials would say, "We've counted the cars and we've counted the spaces. There are sufficient spaces for all cars to be parked on campus."
  • Students then responded, "Sure. There are enough spaces if you want me to park in Dike!"

While there is unlikely ever to be enough campus parking space in places where students and faculty really want to park, the University of Northern Iowa recently took a new approach to its parking problem.  In about 2000, UNI officials have began working with its United States Senators, Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin, to secure funding for a "multi-modal parking facility".  This facility would serve as a sort of hub for various kinds of transportation, but, more importantly for most of the UNI community, as a parking garage for automobiles.

Initial estimates indicated that the project would cost about $18 million, with the university responsible for about $3 million of that total.  By July 2005, about $8 million in federal funds seemed secure, with good prospects for an additional $7 million in the near future.  Campus officials considered several sites for the parking ramp, including locations near the Industrial Technology Center, College Courts, Campbell Hall, the Commons, and the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.  An area north of the Performing Arts Center seemed to emerge as most favored site.  There were early plans for a design contract to be let in 2005.

In the spring of 2006 there was a series of meetings with university faculty, staff, and students about plans for the parking facility.  These meetings showed overwhelming opposition to the facility as it was presented.  Students and staff objected to

  • a mandatory fee to pay for the facility;
  • an increase in the cost of the annual parking pass;
  • and shifts in parking zones. 

Some also objected to the site on aesthetic grounds:  wouldn't a parking ramp detract from the appearance of the new Performing Arts Center?  Some questioned the need for any sort of facility to be built in an economic climate that would force the university to make cuts in academic programs.  Some also questioned the value, quality, and environmental impact of the mass transit aspects of the facility.  Consequently, President Koob put plans for a parking facility on hold.

After another series of meetings with members of the university community later in 2006, administrative officials advanced a new plan for a more modest facility to be located on the north side of campus.  The facility would occupy the block bounded by 23rd Street on the south, Campus Street on the west, 22nd Street on the north, and Merner Avenue on the east.  This facility would have two decks with a capacity of 471 vehicles, an increase of 262 spaces over the ground level Campbell Hall lot that then occupied most of that block.  It would also include a passenger shelter and off-street vehicle queuing space for transportation to off-campus housing locations and the perimeter of the pedestrian core of campus.

The re-configured facility would cost between $6 and $7 million. Eighty per cent of the cost would be borne by the Federal Transit Authority; the university would be responsible for the other twenty per cent.  However, the university would not need to come with large amounts of cash, because its twenty per cent share could include in-kind services and the value of the land.  A certified appraisal of the site gave a value of $1.28 million.  Consequently, the university would not need to seek bonding.  Revenue from parking operations would go toward upkeep and maintenance.  In order to prepare the site, the university needed to move or raze four houses that it owned in that block.  Greek organizations--Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, Alpha Phi sorority, and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity--rented three of the houses from the university at that time. The fourth house held offices for staff displaced following the fire in Gilchrist Hall.  The project would also include improvements in pedestrian safety along 23rd Street.

In December 2006, the Board of Regents approved an initial plan for what was then called the Parking Deck and Transit Facility. The university returned to the Board in the spring of 2007 with a full business plan and a schematic design.

Construction got under way in the summer of 2008.  Before work began, two of the houses on the site were moved one block north to lots owned by the university.  The other houses were demolished.  Construction moved close to schedule, though an editorial in the Northern Iowan complained about the accompanying noise.  The university even mounted a Web cam across the street from the site so that people could watch the progress.  Work was substantially completed by August 2009, though certain finishing touches remained to be done.

The facility opened on November 2, 2009.  It included 588 parking spaces for faculty, staff, and students with registered permits.  It also included about 180 metered parking spaces.  The facility is a regular stop for MET transit buses, the local Panther Shuttle, and the Safe Ride service.  About 96% of the electrical power used by the facility will be produced by solar panels mounted on the roof.  Those panels will be installed during the winter of 2009-2010.  That installation will cause portions of the upper level to be unavailable at times.  The total cost of the project will be about $12,053,000, with the Federal Transit Administration funding 80% and the university covering the remaining cost with parking funds and the value of the land.  Even with the loss of parking spaces in the former Campbell Hall lot, the facility still represents a net gain of about 330 spaces.

While most people in the university community probably value the additional parking spaces most highly, university officials also believe that the facility serves other purposes.  First, it provides a transportation hub on the north side of campus, with a sheltered bus stop and facilities for bicycle riders.  Second, substantial reconstruction of 23rd Street  near the facility makes that area, which had become dangerous for both pedestrians and vehicles, considerably safer for all kinds of traffic.  And, third, it demonstrates a commitment of the university to a more sustainable future.  As Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Morris Mikkelsen said in an October 2, 2009, article in the Waterloo Courier:

The university is pretty excited about the fact that we can get an almost net-zero building, and of this scale, on campus.  Very few can say that . . . This fits right into what we are trying to do with sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint.

The Multimodal Transportation building was dedicated at 1PM on August 27, 2010.


Compiled by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, July 2005; last updated November 18, 2010.


Rod Library Special Collections and University Archives
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613-3675
Telephone: (319)-273-6307
Fax: (319)-273-2913
Email: Gerald.Peterson@uni.edu