April 28, 2005 in Business

Valet parking can”t wait

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review
 

Valet parking has come to downtown Spokane, giving diners a chance to indulge themselves before they get their first cocktail. But adjusting city parking regulations to accommodate the new service without confusing drivers has caused a slight case of heartburn.

New 10-minute loading zones may be the cure. If officials from the city and the Downtown Spokane Partnership agree on implementing the change today, traffic operations engineer Bob Turner says signs designating several of the zones could be in place downtown by mid-May to test the concept.

Turner says the city wants to be flexible, but must keep in mind the growing demand for parking created by new hospitality and entertainment venues. Curb space opened up for valet service is that much less parking space for shoppers and other visitors.

“It’s always a juggling act, and you can’t make everybody happy,” he says.

Turner says Seattle and Portland, where demand for valet parking has long been intense, impose fees on service providers. Spokane officials, he says, want to find a simpler way to make the service available.

“It’s just one more thing we would have to do with less people and less money,” Turner says.

City parking regulations provide for commercial loading zones, which require a permit, 10-minute parking zones and 3-minute passenger loading zones where drivers cannot get out of their vehicles. The 10-minute parking zones are not the answer because drivers with handicap-parking permits can leave their vehicles all day, if they like.

Turner says 10-minute loading zones would not allow longer-term parking, a potential irritant. Signs making the distinction between loading and parking zones will be important, as will a good education effort.

Also, he says, the city is trying to figure out a way to shut off a few meters in front of Niko’s Restaurant at 4 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. to make more room for valets handling early diners. But a two-hour overlap of metered parking and a zone may be too confusing, Turner says.

Niko’s parking is handled by Signature Parking. Signature’s owner, James Yost, says the change would be welcome, but he can work with the status quo. The Big Easy and Marilyn’s on Monroe also use Signature, he says, and this week company valets started working at Brix and The Wine Cellar in Coeur d’Alene. Other restaurant owners are interested, he adds.

Yost says valet service improves access for the elderly or disabled, and dresses up a restaurant’s overall curb appeal.

He has some parking slots reserved in The Big Easy’s rooftop lot, Lincoln Parking, and other lots in the area. Cars are not parked on the street where they might deprive other businesses of space.

The result is more on-street parking, not less, he says.

The charge in Spokane is $7; in Coeur d’Alene it’s $5.

Yost say customers are still adjusting to an unfamiliar service and provider. But response has been good, an assertion backed up by Niko’s owner Laith Elaimy.

Yost says he appreciates efforts by the city and Downtown Spokane Partnership to help provide new answers to downtown’s parking needs.

Yost, 29, had experience in valet parking working for the Inn at the Park and The Davenport. When he saw the demand for parking created by new hospitality and entertainment venues around the Davenport, he saw an opportunity to start his own business.

“I kind of just wanted to take it out there,” he says.

Signature employs eight. “My small, little business is staying plenty busy,” says Yost, who received his business degree from Eastern Washington University.

Montvale Hotel owner Rob Brewster says upscale clients expect valet service. He was frustrated by the city’s initial inability to find a way to change its parking regulations so the service could be offered at the Montvale. The curb in front of the hotel’s First Street entrance is marked for 10-minute parking.

Despite his concerns, Brewster says the problems have their upside.

“Parking is an issue downtown now,” he says. “It’s a wonderful issue to have.”


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