I recently had a couple of inquiries from colleagues asking me if I knew of any downtown organizations or business improvement districts (BIDs) that managed downtown parking. I was immediately reminded of a brief report I wrote in 2010 on the subject for a client, and was able to send her a copy of the report.
As I reviewed the 2010 report, a number of questions came to mind:
- How many cities are now contracting with downtown organizations or BIDs to manage municipal or public parking?
- Are other private or public entities contracting with downtown organizations or BID to manage parking that they own or control?
- What advantages and disadvantages are there to this arrangement?
- What results, both positive and negative, have these contracts or arrangements produced?
At the time I produced the report, I identified eight cities where downtown organizations were managing some or all of the municipal parking system: Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boise, Idaho; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.; Schenectady, N.Y.; and Tempe, Ariz. I haven’t checked with these cities lately, nor do I know how many other cities might currently have similar arrangements. What I do know is that all of these cities and the downtown organizations I contacted reported positive results. But there are also cautions that should be considered.
Briefly, the eight organizations reported:
- They made significant changes in parking operations, rules, and regulations to make the systems more user-friendly, with varying degrees of success.
- They were, in most cases, able to earn a management fee to support the downtown organization and pay for internal management personnel.
- They developed and offered a host of innovative amenities that customers found appealing.
- They mostly reported higher revenues as customers found the parking system friendlier and often cleaner, safer, and more attractive.
- They were able to use parking as a more effective economic development tool.
Disadvantages included not having the deep-pocketed financial reserves that cities have, and finding it difficult to continue innovating once the initial changes were made.
It would seem that with the proliferation of robust downtown organizations and BIDs, more cities might consider this as an option. However, not every downtown organization is eager to take on what might be a headache if the system is poorly managed, and others may not feel this is their core business. City governments might also be reluctant to turn over a considerable asset to a group that they feel lacks parking management knowledge and experience. Nonetheless, it’s an option worth considering.
(Full disclosure: I was president of Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. when that organization pioneered this arrangement in 1990.)