Robotic parking garage ruins commute, Brickell condo residents say

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Nicholas Nehamas  

Published May 19, 2015


Add this to your list of reasons for being late to work: The $16 million robotic parking garage at your fancy condo tower is moving at a snail’s pace.

Residents of Brickell House — where a one-bedroom apartment rents for $2,450 per month — were told that a cutting-edge robotic system would retrieve their cars from the 46-story tower’s garage in less than 10 minutes.

But the robotic valets don’t seem up to the task, at least not during the morning and evening rush.

During off-peak hours, the garage works fine, residents say. But when it’s time to go to work, impatient commuters complain of waits up to 30 minutes. Apologetic garage attendants offer free Starbucks to ease jangled nerves.

“I’ve already been late to several, important board meetings at work,” said Beatriz Guerrero, a marketing executive who moved into the tower at 1300 Brickell Bay Drive two months ago. “I’m worried about losing my job.”

Guerrero said she asked her landlord for a discount in her monthly rent. No dice, the landlord said.

The 374-unit building opened in November, and delays have gotten worse as more tenants move in.

“It feels like we’re guinea pigs for testing,” Guerrero said.

The building’s management has said it will close the garage over Memorial Day Weekend to perform a software update that should improve speeds.

“The way I see it is no different from when the first iPhone came out,” said Harvey Hernandez, the building’s developer. “How many updates did you have to do to fix every little issue? It was brand new technology. So is this.”

“The issues are not a surprise to us because we knew that once the occupancy of the building increased there were going to be things we needed to adjust,” Hernandez continued. “We’re learning the parking behavior of the residents.”

Hernandez added that the rush hour wait is only 20 minutes at worst.

Here’s how the garage, designed by a New Jersey-based company called Boomerang Systems, works: When residents want to retrieve their cars, they swipe a specially programmed card at the garage’s computer system. The computer then orders a rolling robotic cart to find the automobile and bring it to one of five elevated lifts, which delivers it to the owner downstairs.

In an interview last month in which he touted the benefits of robotic parking, Hernandez said the 13-story automated garage “gave us great exposure during sales.”

“A lot of buyers said the parking was a great attraction,” he added.

But as the kinks are worked out, residents say their schedules are being ripped to shreds.

Aldo Ferri, another renter, said he feels “ripped off” by the automated garage..

“My apartment only comes with one parking space so my fiancée and I paid $2,000 to buy another one,” said Ferri, who has turned to Uber to get to work some mornings instead of waiting for his car.

Another resident, Ben Friedman, said he was very happy with the building overall, which includes amenities such as 24-hour concierge service, a private catering kitchen and a luxury spa. “But at rush hour, the parking is a nightmare,” Friedman said. “It’s absurd. If you have a flexible schedule, you can get around it. If not, you’re stuck.”

James Gelly, Boomerang’s CEO, said the new software update would increase robot speeds and lower retrieval times.

“This is the future of parking, and we’re adapting the system based on customer behavior and usage,” Gelly said. “Like any garage, when there’s people that want to get out at the same time, you’re going to get queues.”

Two years ago, a South Beach developer sued Boomerang in federal court for fraud, saying the company made false promises about its ability to deliver a functioning robotic parking system on time. The parties settled their dispute in confidential arbitration, said Gelly, who took over the company earlier this year. The garage, at 1826 Collins Avenue, is no longer in use.

The Brickell House garage was designed for 480 cars. But many tenants haven’t moved in yet, and about 125 cars use the robotic system today, Gelly said.

That has led residents to worry about what will happen to the garage when the building fills up.

“My floor is empty right now,” said Ernesto Laborda, who’s renting a studio. “I can hear all the fire alarms beeping like they don’t have batteries because there’s no one living there. I’m afraid it’s going to be much slower when all the new people move in.”