Underground garage hits high-tech heights

When you build a high-rise with condo prices starting at $3.9 million,
on-site parking is a given.
20100511_inq_park11-b.JPGBut when your building doesn't have enough room for a traditional garage, you'll need a state-of-the-art solution to provide it.

For the newly opened and lavish 1706 Rittenhouse Square Street - and, cleverly, that's its address as well - it's a German-made automated-parking system that has only three others exactly like it in the world.

Here's how it works:

Residents have cards with transponders similar to an E-Z Pass that opens the exterior and interior garage doors.

The driver parks his car on a pallet in one of the two bays, and four lasers above the car make sure that he is parked correctly. A large screen in the bay will tell him if the vehicle is perfectly placed.

The driver leaves the bay and heads for a nearby panel with a screen that is activated by an electronic touch key. A series of questions appears on the screen, and the driver answers by pushing a button. Among the questions: Is the trunk closed? Is the antenna retracted?

When that's done, the interior door closes and the system takes the car and its pallet automatically to the nearest empty space on one of four levels below. On the way down, the car is turned 180 degrees and backed into the space, so when it is retrieved, the car can be driven straight out to the street.

As the car begins the trip down, another pallet arrives automatically in the bay for the next car.

There are panels in the elevators where the driver can order up the car with his touch key so it will be waiting for him when he arrives on the ground floor.

Fourteen spaces at the top can accommodate cars with higher clearance; the remaining 50 are spaces for regularly sized cars.

This advanced technological solution to what he calls "this building's tiny footprint" came from Parkway Corp.'s chairman and chief executive officer, Joseph S. Zuritsky, a partner in 1706 Rittenhouse with developer Tom Scannapieco.

It was "an extraordinarily expensive solution," Zuritsky added quickly - more than $140,000 for each of the 64 spaces in the four-story, subterranean framework.

A more typical self-parking ramp system requires 20,000 square feet, Scannapieco said, but 1706 Rittenhouse has a footprint of only about 6,700 square feet.

One answer - an "old-fashioned" elevator-garage system - would have been "a horrible solution for a first-class building," Zuritsky said.

The developers also wanted below-ground parking.

"I knew the automated parking system existed," Zuritsky said. "In fact, it isn't all that new technology, because it has been used in manufacturing and warehousing operations for years."

Wohr, a company based in Stuttgart, Germany, tweaked that technology to park cars automatically.

Although three of Wohr's automated parking systems are in the U.S. already, their technology is older. The 1706 system is the latest, with just three others like it in Europe.

"The others aren't as automated as this one," said Jim McCabe, vice president and field-operations director of Quality Elevator Sales and Service Inc. in Pennsauken, which assembled and installed the system for Wohr over 10 months. "Their latest - their Rolls-Royce system."

The 74-space Wohr Multipark system McCabe, Quality Elevator president David Hollingsworth and the developers viewed at the Summit Grand Parc apartment complex in Washington was slower, has fewer moving parts, and requires more human intervention.

Here, the only human involved is the doorman to help with packages.

Zuritsky said that about 75 percent of the 1706 Rittenhouse's system cost was "the 45-foot hole we dug to keep the parking underground."

There was water deep under the building - underground streams that were already well-known - and the farther they dug, the more they hit, he said. Some water was pumped out, the rest managed with huge stones that help the water to drain around the foundation.

Quality Elevator didn't have it easy either.

"We saw the one in Washington and thought it might be a piece of cake, but it was antiquated compared with this one," Hollingsworth said. "We do a lot of this kind of work, but this system was a new one on us."

The automated parking system arrived in 25 huge boxes from Germany, first by ship to New York and then by truck to Pennsauken, where pieces of it were assembled and trucked over the river.

"There were lots of big pieces, but they were all numbered, and that made it easier to assemble" by a five-man crew, Hollingsworth said.

There also was a language barrier to overcome.

"If we didn't know exactly how something worked, experts arrived from Germany," Hollingsworth said.

Zuritsky said the system probably will last "1,000 years" because it is unlikely it will be in constant use.

"Most buyers have two or three homes, and they won't be here all the time," he said.

Paula Celletti-Baron, 1706's vice president of sales, said most residents would likely leave their cars parked when they needed to go out.

"If they have a restaurant reservation on the other side of the city, they can always use our Lincoln Towncar," she said.
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