City Hall Works to Attract Shoppers and Visitors Downtown with Parking Perks
No free parking, but almost.
By Rick Guinness
November 02, 2010
With the help of city hall, Hartford is offering several new parking incentives to attract people to businesses and events. But many who park in the city say they are not quite sure what to make of Mayor Pedro Segarra’s initiatives.
Officials are trying to stop the bleeding of declining parking revenue — the 2009 annual report showed a drop from $6.7 million to $5.3 million — but Segarra says he is committed to promoting economic development. Hence the new deals.
Anyone who parks three times at a city garage will get a fourth visit for free. The city will be offering five free days of parking to spark holiday traffic into the city, starting the day after Thanksgiving. And Hartford also has adopted a refer-a-friend program that allows you to get a free month of parking if you can get a friend to park in a city lot for three months. That program will begin Feb. 28 and run until June 30.
Segarra said the initiatives are a work in progress and conceded in an interview last week that traditionally there has never been a master parking plan in Hartford. At one point, parking was “political booty,” according to Segarra.
“The best thing is to make policy that increases revenue, economic development and convenience,” Segarra said. “The question now is the future: I don’t want to grow parking. We need to get out of the parking business.”
Segarra said that the initial resolutions are intended to increase awareness about what parking is available in the city.
The downtown area has 48 private and public parking garages and another 50 surface lots. The city’s Morgan Street garage alone has 2,300 spaces and Hartford Parking Authority recently cut the cost from $140 down to $119 a month. Compare that to the cost of parking in a private lot, like CityPlace Garage off of Pearl Street ($249.10 per month) or Trumbull on the Park Garage ($180 per month).
“Parking is a piece. It’s just a piece,” said Chief Operating Officer David B. Panagore, who boasted that during the week the Blue Man Group was in town, “The restaurants were full.”
Both Panagore and Segarra say they are committed to keeping rates down, and unifying what is still a fractured system.
The administration’s new parking policies have been met with a certain degree of skepticism by people who park in Hartford all the time.
Attorney Dyke Spear, whose law practice on Trumbull Street costs him around $160 a month to park on the street, said he did not find any of the parking garage deals particularly enticing.
As for free parking the day after Thanksgiving: “There’s no place to shop,” Spear said, adding, “The day after Thanksgiving used to be a mad house — G Fox, Sage Allen …”
But now, “Everyone is going to the mall. Who is going to come into the city?”
That is exactly the question that Mark McGovern, the chief executive officer of the Hartford Parking Authority, has spent two years analyzing. In fact the new policies are grounded in extensive research and opinion surveys.
Beyond the most recent parking initiatives passed unanimously by the council last month, McGovern said that the city will be working with restaurants to help promote deals that reward patronage at particular establishments — so that customers get a discount and a break on parking.
“Clearly we are trying to increase awareness of our facilities,” McGovern said.
Parking is much more plentiful than it was in years past because there are gaping holes where famous stores and night spots once stood. For instance, where the popular Union Place club Mad Murphy’s once stood, there is now a veritable sea of blacktop. Prices on Union Place are competitive. But there is often a downside.
“People’s cars get broken into,” one bar owner lamented. And: “People don’t want to pay $9 to park.”
Julie DelFavero, the manager of the newly opened nightclub Symmetry (formerly Bourbon Street North), said that the club is offering a deal where patrons can drive right up to the door and hand their keys to the owner and he will park their cars for $6. Vito’s is doing the same thing for $5 on Trumbull Street.
Segarra said there are many great deals on parking in Hartford if you are willing to walk a couple of blocks, which he encourages people to do. In fact he said he ate at a nearby restaurant and managed to park for only $3 the day before.
And some people worry about parking tickets.
“As a rank-and-file parker, I can tell you that there was a big change in enforcement about three years ago,” says Alex Wood of Manchester, who makes the pilgrimage into the city every day as part of his job as a journalist.
“I started getting tickets in places I had never gotten tickets before. And any time you overstayed a meter, a ticket became a virtual certainty. Also, the amount of a basic parking fine went up from $15 to $25. The upshot of all this was that on-street parking stopped being viable for me.” (The city does not keep track of revenue collected exclusively from parking fines.)
Wood says it got to the point where he stopped having lunch or spending any money in Hartford and concentrated on simply doing his job and going home.
Segarra said he realizes that the fines are unpopular, but he noted that in Manhattan the cost of a parking ticket is $150. So, in comparison, Hartford isn’t that bad.
“Of course, the best solution of all is to ride a bike or take the bus so that parking isn’t an issue,” Wood says.
“I avoid parking downtown as much as possible, which is why I ride a motor scooter,” he says.
But he gave kudos to the city for the meter system, introduced in 2008, because the newer pay stations with the paper vouchers allow him to move his car from a parking space next to his office up to one in front of Starbucks and not have to pay twice.
Former Councilman John Kennelly, whose law office is right next door to Spear’s, is also a big fan of the new system for on-street parking. “Being a patron, I can say that the new machines have been a success,” from a revenue standpoint as well as an efficiency one.
He said he is totally against leasing out city parking-lot property to private vendors because he thinks the parking authority can do it more efficiently for more profit and provide better deals.
“When the city allows private vendors, the prices are exponentially higher — and high rates are not a good policy,” Kennelly says. “The city should have enough parking to keep rates down and make more money.”
Although Panagore and the mayor said they don’t want to make a huge mistake “like Chicago,” which recently used the proceeds of a huge parking- lease deal for a one-time budget fix, Panagore said he is open to the idea of a concession agreement on parking property.