Driving Economic Development with Proactive Parking Management
Compact downtown districts can pose several challenges to city managers and administrators. One issue in particular is leasing and maintaining adequate public parking for patrons and visitors. This is especially true of downtown areas that are experiencing revitalization, such as Wilmington, NC, a historic community that once served as a major port city and is now a flourishing business center and tourist destination.
In an effort to ensure that on-street spaces are available for visitors and shoppers, the city recently re-instituted parking meters, which had been removed in the 1970s. Seen as an economic development tool to improve the downtown experience, money from the meters and other parking spaces downtown are managed through an enterprise fund. This fund was designed to finance maintenance of parking assets and facilities to better serve downtown patrons. Resources from the enterprise fund also cover the cost of managing the parking program.
The re-institution of parking meters has increased the city’s inventory of available downtown parking by almost 20 percent, an overwhelming amount for an administration that had no in-house parking manager and relied on an outside contractor to manage the 2,500 on- and off-street parking spaces available downtown.
Recognizing the need to improve its parking management program, the city had hired Betty Gurganus in 2003 as its first-ever parking manager. She maintained the relationship with the outside contractor, and the two worked together to manage the city’s parking services.
“There were not a lot of resources readily available for parking management at the time,” Gurganus said. “As a result, the city wanted to bring in a company that could effectively run the operation from top to bottom.”
Wilmington is one of many municipalities that manage their parking operations through an outside contractor. According to Gurganus, the city appreciates the benefits of working with a worldwide company that has experience and knows which tools to use to run a successful parking operation.
“With our limited resources and manpower, we needed a company that had experience in on- and off-street municipality parking practices that could issue tickets, collect them and maintain Grade A parking facilities ć basically run the program for us,” Gurganus said.
In early 2006, she took the opportunity to work with the city’s contractor to improve the outdated parking system and tasked it with finding a parking solution that could adequately support the city’s growing number of parking spaces.
“The old parking system was archaic and basically worked as a financial parking system,” Gurganus said. “You could not go back and easily retrieve data or notes, which really made it hard to service customers effectively.”
Gurganus had previously worked as parking manager for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington for seven years, where she used PowerPark by T2 Systems to manage campus parking. Her experience led her to consider similar software as an option to help build a strong parking infrastructure.
After careful deliberation and extensive research, Gurganus and her contractor chose T2 Flex. “When Flex became an option, I realized it was what the city needed. It allowed us to tailor the system – add modules if we so desire – and the DMV connection is very important.
“There were certain standards we were looking for. We needed the functionality to look up customers by ticket number, license plate number or even by name,” Gurganus said.
In March 2006, the city went live with the new system, and improvements were realized immediately. According to Gurganus, they can now access and pull information whenever needed from one central database.
“In the past, tickets were collected using a system that correlated issued tickets to our database and converted them into alphanumeric codes. It was nearly impossible to effectively serve customers in a timely matter. Now, when I pull up a ticket, we can see all the information for that customer.”
The city of 93,000 now issues more than 35,000 citations per year, grossing nearly $1.8 million annually, all of which is used to spur economic expansion in the historic downtown area.
The system also allows Gurganus to compare the number of tickets issued by her contractor with the number of tickets issued by local law enforcement agencies and the fire department. “We can search the number of tickets issued on a particular street and research how long it has been since citations were issued in the area and why. Simply put, having a system like this in place better helps us serve our customers.”
Whitney Dean, a technical writer, can be reached at