Magazine

City of Lowell Cleans Up Its Parking Act

Chuck Carney, Parking Director for Lowell, Mass., and his Parking Department have been honored by the municipality's Center City Committee for making a "significant impact on the downtown."
The award recognizes Carney's department for modernizing and improving operations at Lowell's four downtown parking garages and the Davidson Street parking lot.
"He's a breath of fresh air," said Center City Committee President Bill Lipchitz, who added that before Carney's arrival, the garages were an almost weekly topic of discussion at committee meetings, when they were considered underused, dirty, poorly lighted, crime-ridden and unsafe.
"He spent some money and he actually cleaned them up," Lipchitz said. "People feel much more comfortable going into the garages now. The security is much better. To me, it's been a turnaround."
The city has added new payment machines, interior and exterior lighting, and surveillance equipment at all its garages, which now have a 24-hour security presence.
Lowell is a historic city that typifies the American industrial revolution of the 19th century. The U.S. National Parks Department has sites all over the city, with seven historic textile museums, quilt museums and cotton mills.
With the city located on the Merrimac and Concord rivers, several boat and trolley tours operate during the season. Lowell also hosts the first, and largest, folk festival in the country, plus winter festivals.
Three years ago, with the boom of old mills being converted into condos and housing, the City Council decided to take a hard look at the parking situation. They had been told the garages were falling apart and always running in the red. They decided to restructure the on- and off-street parking departments and make a business out of it.
Carney has been the city's parking director since April 2004. His department was created in July of that year. His tenure, which coincided with a substantial increase in monthly and hourly garage fees and parking fines - which had been unchanged for more than a decade - has seen the city's annual spending on its parking facilities increase from about $900,000 in July 2004 to nearly $2.7 million this fiscal year, which began in July.
Before the rate increases, the city was spending about $500,000 a year more on the garages than it took in from their operation. Under Carney, the parking enterprise fund now pays $500,000 a year into the city coffers.
"We were surprised when I got the call for this award," Carney said. "A lot of people in this organization have worked very hard, and the city has spent a lot of money to pull off some of these things. It's nice to hear our customers come back and tell us they appreciate it."
Carney came from the high-tech industry and evaluated every aspect of the parking business. He came up with a plan and presented it to the City Council. Along with Central Parking, the operator, they have completed the fourth garage upgrade to pay-on-foot with real-time credit card parking control equipment using Amano/McGann - all networked to the city's Parking Department headquarters.
They have made most of the major structural repairs to the garages, installed sophisticated surveillance camera systems in the garages and automated the on-street meters.
The municipal electric company had all the garage light fixtures replaced with a program that saved thousands of dollars each year in energy costs. With contract security patrolling the garages, vehicle theft and vandalism have been significantly reduced.
With the garages being repaired, well lighted and managed properly, the operations are now profitable. Officials, residents and merchants report being delighted to have this kind of change for their city. They are currently in the process of breaking ground for a fifth garage.

Article Abstract from May, 2006




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