CHATHAM — With summer underway and the downtown parking spaces already becoming more scarce, town officials are recruiting a private contractor to operate the town-owned Eldredge Garage lot this summer. The plan was recommended as a short-term approach until selectmen decide on the permanent use of the property.
The board had previously decided to use the lot for a trial of paid municipal parking, with residents parking free. Working with the Eldredge Garage property planning committee, Community Development Director Katie Donovan devised three alternatives: using seasonal gate attendants, allowing unattended parking with a kiosk, or hiring a parking management company. The latter approach is the best one, Donovan said.
“There is no electrical service on this site currently,” she said, making an electronic parking kiosk a challenge to install. Self-serve parking would also require pavement stripes, and most of the lot is unpaved. “We think that allowing parking without delineating parking spaces would be chaotic,” Donovan said.
Having parking attendants would eliminate the need for pavement markings, and would likely allow more vehicles to utilize the space. But the town has not budgeted for seasonal employees to operate the lot, and recruiting workers at this late date would be challenging, she said. The workers would also require some training, Donovan added. For those reasons, hiring a contractor to operate the lot is an attractive option.
The committee recommended that the town issue a request for proposals from private firms willing to operate the lot seven days a week, from at least 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No overnight parking would be allowed, and people with valid Chatham beach, transfer station or recycling stickers would be allowed to park for free. The bidders would also be required to provide liability insurance and two portable toilets for the site.
The parking fee would be set at $15 per vehicle per day, and the parking vendor would be required to pay the town a percentage of that fee, along with a flat fee of $2,500 per month. Selectmen supported this approach, and voted to issue the request for proposals as soon as possible.
“We are looking at a time crunch,” Donovan told the board. At the earliest, the request for proposals could be issued on Friday, and given posing requirements, the earliest time bids could be opened would be Monday, July 2.
At a minimum, the property will need temporary upgrades to provide better drainage, some minor landscaping, and the installation of handicap parking spaces, Donovan added. Signs would also need to be installed specifying the parking rules “so that enforcement could be done,” she said.
“I don’t understand how anybody’s going to make any money doing this,” Selectman Peter Cocolis said. “We will.” Bidders not only have to pay one or more attendants, but have to cover the cost of liability insurance and portable rest rooms, while paying the town a monthly fee and a cut of their per-car revenues. And if the lot is heavily utilized by non-paying residents, the contractor’s profit margin gets even thinner.
The lot has been traditionally used for beach parking, Donovan said, so it’s not likely to be dominated by residents. There would also be some turn-over of the parking spaces. “You might have beach parking in the day and maybe dining and shopping parking at night,” she said.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place” because of the late date for hiring a contractor, Selectman Cory Metters said. Board member Jeffrey Dykens agreed, wondering whether there might be any companies willing to bid.
“Has there been any expressed interest?” Dykens asked.
Donovan said there were one or two companies that offered their services, and they will be notified immediately of the opportunity to submit bids. Committee member Frank Messina said it is possible one of the bidders would also propose running a beach shuttle.
“They could make a buck,” he said. “They’re trying to get their nose under the tent,” when it comes to the long-term use of the parking lot, Messina said. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he added. “I’m not sure the town wants to be in the parking lot business,” he said.
Donovan said the Eldredge Garage property planning committee is likely to make a recommendation on the permanent use of the land in the late fall or early winter, and that recommendation may take time to design and implement.
“I’m not sure that this would be the only summer that we’d be looking at an interim use,” she said.
If no suitable bids are received, selectmen will need to decide whether to have unattended free parking on the site, or possibly allow resident-only free parking. In either case, it will be a challenge, Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said.
“That lot is not conducive to use as an un-managed parking lot,” he said. It is mostly unpaved and lacks drainage, directional arrows and other necessities. It is possible to place temporary striping to delineate parking spaces, but such striping would likely last only around a week before it needs replacement, Duncanson said.
“If the RFP doesn’t pan out, I would like to have a discussion before we open it up as an open lot,” Metters said.
For now, the lot will remain closed, secured by a chain. Selectmen asked town staff to install no parking signs to keep people from parking in front of the chain, which blocks the sidewalk and creates a traffic hazard.
Email Alan Pollock at alan @capecodchronicle.com