Cost-conscious developers are not keen on wasting space, especially when it comes to parking garages. But executives at Boomerang Systems Inc. say they've solved that problem with a new twist on an idea that's been around for 25 years.
The Florham Park-based company has developed an automated parking system with technology that's long been used in warehouses and automobile manufacturing plants, President Christopher Mulvihill said. And thanks to its refinements, he said, developers can fulfill parking requirements at their buildings using half the space.
The system uses flat, low-lying robots to move vehicles to and from spaces inside their facilities, leaving drivers at the door and eliminating the need for ramps and travel lanes. And executives with the seven-year-old firm say it's different from traditional rack-and-rail systems, because its robots can move in any direction, work around one another and fit vehicles into tight spaces on flat ground.
That can lead to big cost and space savings for developers, said Mark Patterson, chairman and CEO, so "we can give you back a few floors to make … the revenue-producing things, versus using it for mandated parking."
As of last month, Boomerang had three contracts in New Jersey for its new parking systems, along with four in other states. One of those projects is in Atlantic City at a planned beachfront residential high-rise alongside the Revel casino.
Using robots for parking wasn't always a part of Boomerang's plan. The founders of S&S Worldwide, a global manufacturer of thrill rides, started Boomerang in 2006 to develop rail-based parking systems and automated self-storage facilities using similar technology.
But, Mulvihill said, "as we went and started talking to people about this, we found that a ton of them were more interested in parking than in self-storage," so Boomerang quickly shifted focus.
"We took some of the roller coaster designers — real problem solvers — and said, 'Guys, make a system that can do three things,' " Mulvihill said: work on flat, concrete floors that builders are comfortable with; perform multiple moves at once; and allow the system to continue running if one robot breaks down.
For a developer, using an automated system can sometimes be a costlier option than a standard garage, said George Hibbs, an architect with Clarke, Caton, Hintz. But it also provides the space solution builders are always seeking in parking components, which are inherently expensive to build, since they house vehicles.
"Because of that, every square foot is very valuable in a parking structure," said Hibbs, a principal with the Trenton-based firm, which has overseen more than $400 million worth of garage projects. "So it's incredibly important they be as well designed and as efficient as possible to get as much bang for the buck in terms of the layout."
Patterson said he still considers Boomerang to be in a startup phase, at least as it pertains to its new technology, after having spent the past few years on research and development. He and Mulvihill effectively are two of the company's five salespeople, he said, and the company has about 40 employees.
Its first major RoboticValet project is underway in Miami, where a facility with 480 parking spaces and 28 robots will serve a 46-story, $180 million condominium project.
"We find developers now who are looking for something differentiating," said Patterson, who joined Boomerang in 2010 after two decades as an executive and real estate investment banker with Merrill Lynch and Citigroup.
But the company also is operational in New Jersey with a small but critical facility at Crystal Springs Resort, in Hamburg, where drivers can watch from a lobby while vehicles are moved about the structure. Mulvihill said the 40-car building gives Boomerang demo space some 50 miles from Manhattan — easier than flying developers, investors and consultants to its Utah production plant.
That puts Boomerang in a good position in the region and in New Jersey, where "we're talking about attracting dozens of projects … anything ranging from multifamily residential to office to mixed use."
"It's really just been a matter of, 'OK, is Boomerang able to execute on this?' " Mulvihill said. "And now, as we have more projects and can show people the technology, that's only going to get easier and easier."
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