Officials Claim Success With Downtown Paid Parking Trial

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Parking

At times, the paid parking lot at the former Eldredge Garage site has only a handful of vehicles, but on drizzly days in August, the lot was filled nearly to capacity. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM Despite a few setbacks, the paid parking operation at the former Eldredge Garage site did well this summer, providing some relief for motorists and a little revenue for the town. That was the message that Chatham Valet co-owner Miladin Terziyski told town officials late last month.

While a committee is still mulling the best long-term uses for the property, this summer’s experiment showed that, particularly on bad weather days, there is strong demand for paid municipal parking, officials said. As part of a pilot project, the town hired Chatham Valet to manage the lot, charging $15 per day or $8 per car in the evening.

“When the demand is there, it doesn’t matter how much you charge. We could’ve charged $30 and people would pay,” Terziyski told the Aug. 30 meeting of the Eldredge Garage property planning committee.

Very few motorists balked at paying for parking, he said, and they didn’t hesitate to offer tips to the valets.

“I thought there would be more push-back,” Terziyski said. Most customers who came downtown for shopping stayed around two hours, and those who used the beach shuttle stayed longer, around five hours on average. In both cases, parking spaces at the lot were available to be used more than once per day.

More than 700 people used the lot in July, and with one-third of the per-car fees reverting to the town, taxpayers received $3,420.45 in revenue. That number nearly doubled to $6,038 in August. While the total number of cars in the lot varied widely, with sometimes as few as eight during the entire day, there were 97 cars parked there throughout the day on Aug. 18, the lot’s busiest day of the season.

As a new business, Chatham Valet didn’t make any money this year, “but we didn’t lose money,” Terziyski said. He and his business partner, Richard Kendall, also learned some valuable lessons. They operated an electric six-passenger shuttle – like a large golf cart – and the service proved very popular. The free shuttle was so popular, in fact, that the batteries couldn’t keep up with the demand and the shuttle had to be regularly recharged.

“It just survived the heavy beach days,” Kendall said. If the paid parking continues next summer and if Chatham Valet is chosen as the vendor, they will need a larger shuttle, Terziyski said.

The parking lot clearly lost many customers to the fact that it is located on the east end of Main Street, and most visitors have already passed several free parking lots before they arrive at the former Eldredge Garage site at 365 Main St. But Kendall said that, on days when parking spots were scarce, the motorists who made it all the way down Main Street without finding a space “were happy to pay that fee.”

“We call it the ‘throw in the towel’ lot,” he said with a laugh. The parking operation will continue through the end of this month.

There were several factors that kept revenues down, including the fact that the lot wasn’t open for business until July 4, the day after selectmen signed the contract with Chatham Valet. Town Manager Jill Goldsmith praised the company for being able to open the lot as quickly as it did. The company also put out several signs to advertise the service, including one on the shuttle. But Selectmen Chairman Dean Nicastro, one of the board’s representatives on the Eldredge Garage committee, said he wonders whether the name “Chatham Valet” helped the business, which is located next to Chatham Inn at 359 Main.

“The average person would associate it with the inn,” he said. Nicastro suggested additional signs that stress that the lot is paid public parking, not just a valet lot for the inn.

“I don’t think we did that in time,” Goldsmith said. The town had ordered better signs, but they were not delivered in time, officials said.

“Where we really need a sign is at 549 Main St.,” Nicastro said, referring to the public parking lot at the town offices, next to the chamber of commerce information booth.

Terziyski said the business would definitely benefit from better advertising, and to that end, the company is paying for radio spots during the month of September.

There were few complaints about the parking operation, Goldsmith said, but one came from a person who couldn’t find the lot because it didn’t show up on her GPS map. There was another complaint from a neighbor who was troubled by car headlights shining in his house at night, but Terziyski said the problem was amicably resolved.

Nicastro said he watched the four-person crew of Chatham Valet in operation one busy day, and “it was extremely efficient.” When it comes to a valet service versus self-serve parking, having professionals park vehicles closely together represents a “far more efficient usage” of the space, he said.

Using only the parts of the lot that have traditionally been used for parking, not the fenced-off grassy areas, Terziyski estimated he could park 120 vehicles at a time. Members of the planning committee seemed impressed by that number, and Goldsmith said she is, as well.

“I think with this pilot program, we did learn how to maximize parking,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s information that any of us had.” That lesson could have implications at other places in town where parking is at a premium, like beaches. Terziyski said a number of the motorists using the lot this summer asked for shuttle rides to the fish pier, where parking spaces are usually in short supply in the summer.

Community Development Director Kathleen Donovan said the purpose of the pilot program was to determine whether paid parking could work in downtown Chatham.

“Clearly, I think, it does,” she said.

The Eldredge Garage property planning committee is preparing to issue its recommendations to the board of selectmen for the best long-term uses of the land, which was purchased by the town last year for $2.5 million.