Parking Getting Pricey Downtown

City Council has sold off downtown’s free parking lots over the past fifteen years, transitioning to a private model in which the city relies on the Charlottesville Parking Corporation’s garages and open lot to provide adequate parking for those who live, work, and visit downtown. Last year the rates increased by 50% an hour, from $1.00 to $1.50. Now the hourly rates are going up again, from $1.50 to $2.00. (The Water Street garage stays $0.50 behind the other spots, and is just now going from $1.00 to $1.50.) In today’s Daily Progress article about the change, John Yellig and Liesel Nowak toss out this bit without further elaboration:

In March, CPC raised the fee downtown businesses pay to validate customers’ parking stubs. Under the program, a business can stamp a paying customer’s ticket for up to two hours of free parking. The minimum fee went from $60 to $75 per month, but larger businesses saw higher increases, [CPC President Bob] Stroh said.

Motorists will no longer be able to use the two-hour validations at the Water Street lot.

(Emphasis mine.)

It’s not clear to me whether that means that the Water Street lot will not accept any validated tickets, or just not two-hour validated tickets, but in either case, I worry that this is the camel’s nose in the tent. Water Street GarageThe model for parking under which City Council has eliminated the free lots has been one in which the merchants foot the bill for customers and employees to park downtown. It’s awkward for out-of-town visitors, but it’s basically worked. Eliminating validated parking would completely change the model.

Something that I can’t fit into this puzzle is last year’s news that this very lot on Water Street is for sale. That chunk of land has been assessed at $7M, which must make it a tempting sale for CPC shareholders. But the company, established in 1959, has always prided itself on having a mission of providing inexpensive parking downtown rather than profit-seeking, so it’s not clear how the two interests intertwine.

As a private enterprise, CPC can do whatever it likes; if they want to charge $50/hour and the right to take your car on a joyride, that’s their business. Here’s hoping that the two garages — unlike the open lot — are governed by arrangements with the city that would prevent the elimination of validation. If the city has allowed itself to become dependent on CPC for parking without ensuring that the company would continue to provide free-to-visitors parking, that would be a tremendously nearsighted move.

13 Responses to “Parking Getting Pricey Downtown”


  • I’ve been watching this for a while. It seems very much that the mind-set of CPC changed profoundly when Richard Spurzem bought a chunk of it.

  • Waldo: “has always prided itself on having a mission of providing inexpensive parking downtown rather than profit-seeking, so it’s not clear how the two interests intertwine.”

    That`s akin to stating ACAC exists merely to help maintain healthy
    bodies.

    These are profitmaking organizations and that is their mission and goal. That kind of PR hype is valuable and perhaps sincere, in a way, but doesn`t change the profit motive. I know, in some cases, profits could be increased, but that doesn`t change the basics.

    I realiize the thought originates (I suppose) with CPC not you, Waldo.

  • Great. It’s becoming more and more difficult to live on the downtown mall. Having visitors from out of town is almost impossible. Where in the heck can they put their cars and not have them inconveniently locked away? God forbid they park in the Water Street lot and presume to leave before noon on a Sunday!

    Downtown residents are a huge part of what help to keep the downtown area safe. The residents are the eyes and ears of the community. We notice when something is amiss and will speak up. Because it’s our home. The city says, “Hey, we keep building parking decks for you!” turning a blind eye to the added expense and the incredible inconvenience (certainly with regard to actually having meaningful access to your car) of the option provided.

    I’m lucky that I live and work on the mall. I use my car MAYBE once a week, to get groceries. I cannot imagine living on the mall and working elsewhere. Rather than continuing to approve additional housing on the mall, with parking only for those residents able to shell out $100K for a condo, perhaps the City should look toward solving the parking problem it already has.

    And lest anyone say, “You moved there, knowing the problems,” that’s really not the case. I moved here at a point when the mall was BEGGING for stores, residents and success. Now that it has the latter two, it apparently thinks it can do without the former. If the mall loses its residents, look for it to become a considerably more unsafe area.

  • Oops. Naturally I’d screw that up. I think everyone knew what I meant, even though I sort of jumbled the order in which I mentioned things. The point is that the City needs to realize, BEFORE the residents start leaving, what it is they are about to lose.

  • As the parking situation downtown continues to deteriorate, we are in a sense losing downtown. By that I mean that we’re losing it as a community place for people in Charlottesville. It’s become more and more just a tourist thing. Because it is one thing for a tourist to spend $2 an hour to park here for an afternoon or 2. But it is an entirely different matter for those of us who live and work downtown to spend $20 every single day. And before anyone starts in on bicycles or buses or somesuch, please drop it because those of us with children to shuttle around and groceries to buy and longer commutes really can’t consider that a viable option. We aren’t all meadow-muffins here.

    Someone making $6 an hour working downtown is getting $54 a day, before deductions for any taxes and social security. Can you imagine having to spend roughly a third of every single paycheck just for parking?

    The day will probably come when we have to move my business and it’s employees away from the downtown mall on the basis of parking alone. And we pay our employees much more than $6 an hour. It is sad to lose regular access to the place where our city hall, main library, historical society and other important buildings and resources are. I’m all in favor of growth downtown. Better to build here than to bulldoze farms out in the county. But let’s make sure that the beating heart of Charlottesville remains OUR place rather than ceding it entirely to vacationing Yankees.

    Provision of parking in commercial districts is an appropriate core function of government. It’s part of the basic transportation grid. We can all agree that government is responsible for providing the roads that the cars drive on to get from point a to b. A fat lot of good this system does us if we are unable to stop the car and get out upon arrival. In a car-based society (which we are, like it or not) parking spaces are an essential part of the transportation grid. It’s time that City Council acknowledged this and started making the appropriate provisions for their constituents. We clearly cannot depend on private industry to provide affordable daily parking for locals. It is inappropriate to expect this of non-governmental agencies just as it is foolish to expect or force health insurance companies to act like social service agencies. Both liberals and conservatives ought to agree that the the CPC system has to stop being a part of the City government’s parking plan.

  • I get this from your posts that “the city must provide me with reasonable parking options.” I think it part of a larger strategy that no one has mention. The city is building a massive boondoggle next to City hall, it’s new transportation hub. This hub will bring people by bus to downtown. This less parking spaces the more people will (hopefully) have to ride the bus.

    With higher energy and parking cost, the thought is that people not making a lot of money will now ride buses and leave their cars at home. Anyone who has watched City Council know that this idea is not that farfetched. This is the same group think that made it possible for a past city council to lose 11 million in a hotel at the end of the mall. Well off people don’t care how much it cost to park and they spend the most dollars. Why not cater to the people who might stop coming downtown if they can’t park easily.
    Because as they start to clear the land for the new Albemarle Place with loads of free parking,; what better to show you mean to compete then make it difficult for the very same shoppers to use the downtown mall. Make them ride the bus, how else with they know how much fun they have been missing.

  • Perlogik wrote:

    This hub will bring people by bus to downtown. This less parking spaces the more people will (hopefully) have to ride the bus.

    With higher energy and parking cost, the thought is that people not making a lot of money will now ride buses and leave their cars at home.

    I’m not sure from reading your post if you’re which position you’re taking, if you’re saying it’s okay to raise parking prices or not.

    However having stated that here is the rest of my comments.

    People who use typically use the bus will not be people who spend very much money downtown. The city bus system in charlottesville is and always will be, “transportation of last resort.”

    And even assuming they do have money to spend, riding the bus provides a clear disincentive from doing any serious shopping on the downtown mall. Because whatever you buy now has to be lugged on the bus and then overland to where-ever you live (which is probably a longer walk then most people want to make, or make carrying packages, and then if it rains before you get home, well then the walk “feels” even longer).

    The city public transit system is a very bad one. On average it takes about 45 minutes to wait for a bus, and after you’re on, then it could take that long to get to your destination (depending of course on where or how far you’re going- or if you need to make a transfer and if the buses are even running on time ).

    Charlottesville is a lot like Los Angeles, it’s spread out and the only major public transportation options (buses) stink. If parking is too expensive then you’re limiting the area to rich people and residents (usually the same people). And looking at the direction the area has taken that might just be what City Council really wants. If Council thinks that parking costs will encourage bus ridership they’re wrong (again). I’m certianly not paying the personal property tax, registration tax, safety inspection tax, and insurance costs all so I can go take the bus. If affordable parking isn’t available at the downtown mall then people will probably take their business elsewhere. I know I will.

    Waldo wrote:

    Here’s hoping that the two garages — unlike the open lot — are governed by arrangements with the city that would prevent the elimination of validation. If the city has allowed itself to become dependent on CPC for parking without ensuring that the company would continue to provide free-to-visitors parking, that would be a tremendously nearsighted move.

    I agree – “here’s hoping.” However looking at city council present and past “trememndously nearsighted” would be about what I expect from them.

  • The worries for the parking needs of non-wealthy locals seem a bit overstated or at least premature. If you are willing to walk a bit there is always free parking (on Monticello and on side streets south of the mall, for example). There is also a pay lot next to Main Street Market for $5 a day that is hardly used. Across main street from that, the city owns a lot that I believe is free. The trend is clear enough, but things are not that bad… yet.

  • I agree with Arthur. Water street Parking lot is never full. Most merchants give the 2 hour parking free sticker. True, free parking is harder to find but we are a city now and have a thriving downtown. Paying $3 for parking for a movie aint bad.

  • The city bus system in charlottesville is and always will be, “transportation of last resort.”

    I have to disagree with this. I don’t doubt that you believe that to be so for yourself, but while I lived in the city, it was my first choice for transportation for any distance greater than was reasonable for walking. It worked out very well for me.

    Most merchants give the 2 hour parking free sticker.

    That’s really the crux of this, though — will the two-hour stamp continue? The loss of that could be a real problem, though quite profitable for the CPC.

  • The Downtown Mall is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
    Parking is not a problem for me since I live an easy walking distance away, near Martha Jefferson. But I do share people’s concerns. The Mall is a revitalization success story. Is the city going to ruin it by making parking a problem? Like it or not we are an auto-dependent community for the most part. Our public transit system has a long way to go before it can be in a category with the DC Metro.
    True there is parking within walking distance of the Mall, but do you really want to walk around on the south side late at night, with our thug and gang element? The north side is somewhat safer. Although you never know. Some twenty years ago I was the victim of an unsuccessful mugging in the lobby of the police department, and it was not even late at night.
    Fact is, people will go elsewhere , where parking is free or less of a hassle. I have people tell me “I never go downtown because of the parking.” Maybe we are spoiled by expecting free parking- but facts are facts.

  • This story was on Digg this morning and I thought it was fairly pertinent – The high cost of free parking.

    –Jim

  • That’s a great piece, Jim. It definitely appeals to my ideological side. :)

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