Forces of Nature and a Case for Paid Parking
June, 2011Given the option of having a downtown shopping district with paid or free parking, most people would naturally choose free parking. In fact, introducing paid parking has been a continual struggle between municipalities and citizens, with the latter often protesting paid parking and many business owners claiming that it hurts business.
Five years ago, Dr. Craig Brown, DDS, would have been right there with them, and, he said, it literally took a powerful force of nature to change his mind.
Brown is a pediatric dentist doing business in Galveston, TX. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the island, devastating many of the municipality’s homes and businesses.
The downtown district was one of the most heavily impacted, with even all its parking meters being destroyed. It took more than six months just to clean debris from the streets. As businesses dug themselves out of the rubble, they began to open again in hopes of rebuilding financially.
Unfortunately, the physical reconstruction of the city brought with it a parking-related conundrum: On-street parking was being monopolized by contractor and employee vehicles, leaving business customers and patrons with nowhere to park.
The parking meters had previously ensured a systematic rotation of vehicles, but the monopolized parking spaces were proving detrimental to the growth and revitalization of the city’s business district.
Many businesses futilely attempted to control parking on their own using signs but, Brown said, soon realized that “if we were ever going to truly rebuild our businesses, restoring order to downtown parking was imperative.”
Though the city acknowledged the importance of re-establishing a parking management system, it obviously needed to prioritize other aspects of the revitalization first. “That’s when some of us in the business community learned that funds were available through FEMA and just needed an organized committee to drive the process,” Brown said.
“True to Galveston’s reputation as a small town with vocal citizens, and knowing how important parking is to local business, we assembled a group of business owners to form a grass-roots movement we called the Downtown Oversight Committee for the Selection of Parking.” Brown said.
“As representatives of the merchants from Galveston’s Historic Downtown, we partnered with the city and assumed responsibility of distilling Galveston’s parking needs into an RFP.”
In talking with citizens and other business owners, he said, “we were able to establish the most important criteria for our new parking system, including a user-friendly system that accepts multiple forms of payment; the ability to quickly disconnect in the event of another disaster; the ability to run on solar power for energy efficiency, and a multi-space parking meter that didn’t clutter the streetscape.”
After reviewing several proposals, the four-member committee selected 94 Luke multi-space pay stations from Digital Payment Technologies (DPT), installed by Associated Time and managed by Ampco System Parking, to replace the 800 damaged single-space meters and 93 multi-space stations
The new parking system provides residents and visitors to the city with the convenience of paying with bills, coins or credit cards, and will provide the option to extend parking via phone in the future.
The committee also chose solar-powered pay stations, so the city is able to reduce installation and operational costs, in addition to their being more environmentally friendly. The stainless steel pay stations are designed to be sturdy and weather-proof. In the unfortunate event of another disaster, they can be quickly removed and transported to a safe area, eliminating the need to replace them again.
The city set up a Wi-Fi network infrastructure to give residents and visitors Internet access and encourage them to linger downtown and patronize local businesses. By leveraging the city’s Wi-Fi network infrastructure, the Luke pay stations are able to process credit card transactions in real-time, report tampering or break-ins, and be configured remotely. Residents and visitors of Galveston also have the added convenience of being able to add additional time to their parking session from any pay station in the city.
“Because tourism is one our most important and hardest-hit industries,” Brown said, the committee “allocated a portion of the revenue generated from parking to be put into the marketing efforts to rebuild tourism in Downtown Galveston. By reaching out to tourists to show that downtown is back in business, we can expect a return on investment in parking to benefit the city for years to come”.
“Five years ago, Galveston’s downtown business owners would never have wanted paid parking, let alone advocated it. We took parking for granted until it was gone.”
“Now that we have reinstated paid parking in the form of the new Luke pay stations, the flow of traffic and turnover are back, the customers are back, and it’s finally starting to feel like business as usual again in Downtown Galveston,” he said.
“We still have a long way go, and more than two years later, we’re still rebuilding,” Brown added. “But re-establishing parking has been a major milestone in returning to normalcy.”