NEWS- Pay up: No stamps for outside parking

It's not surprising that a 50 cents-an-hour parking price hike would draw some complaints. But what's really steaming local drivers and merchants is that downtown's venerable Water Street surface lot– much desired by developers– is no longer accepting validated daily or monthly parking, a signal that its days as a parking option may be numbered.

"Removing that one lot is going to kill me,"says Sandy Ruseau, who runs the John Ruseau Watercolor Gallery in York Place, one of 120 merchants who validate parking. 

Ruseau carries people's art purchases to their car, and says she'll have to close the shop if she has to go the Water Street Garage. Her interim plan: to keep dollar bills in the gallery to give to customers to pay for their parking in the surface lot.

News that lot is for sale and up for development further alarms her.

"I think it's going to be terrible," Ruseau says. She worries about "the poor people" working downtown where it's already a challenge to find free parking. "The more it's built up, the less parking there is," she says.

Parking rates at the city-owned Market Street Garage and the privately-owned Water Street lot– previously bumped up by 50 cents an hour in January 2005– go from $1.50  to $2 an hour August 1. The chronically under-used Water Street Garage will see its first increase since it was built in 1993, also climbing 50 cents to $1.50  an hour.

"I think people understand that 13 years is a long time without an increase," says Bob Stroh, general manager of the Charlottesville Parking Center Inc., which owns the Water Street lot, has a stake in the Water Street Garage, and manages the city-owned Market Street Garage.

Stroh points to the lower rate at the Water Street Garage. "That's where the parking is. We've got 1,000 spaces there. If you say you can't find parking, I don't buy that."

He also stresses that with merchant validation at the Market Street and Water Street garages, "It's the same free parking."

Not all merchants see the changes as the "same free parking," particularly those who border the Water Street lot. "Some right on the lot aren't too happy," says Stroh. 

For instance, H&R Block. "What's going to hurt us is that the open lot is not going to accept validated parking," says an H&R Block employee who requested her name not be used. "That's going to hurt us more than the increase."

The 125-space Water Street lot, owned by the privately held CPC, was originally built to provide free, validated parking to lure shoppers downtown. 

With the lot appraised at $7 million, the board of CPC decided last year to entertain purchase offers. 

In the 2004 and 2005 annual report, CPC president Jim Berry notes that a possible sale of the property "at a significant premium over the appraised value" was expected to close by May 11 but could be extended to June 12, 2006– or "may not close at all."

Berry did not return a phone call from the Hook asking whether that sale of prime downtown real estate went through. [Disclosure: the Hook's parent company owns one share of CPC.] Meanwhile, the unnamed buyer has been paying CPC $40,000 a month since October 2005 to maintain its purchase option.

Those monthly payments helped boost CPC's net income almost 100 percent last year– from around $150,000 to $350,000, according to the annual report. And when the Water Street lot, CPC's prime source of income, sells, the corporation could pay its first dividend ever.

Despite the rosy picture painted for shareholders, Stroh cites rising expenses and the cost of investing in the Water Street Garage as the main culprits for the rate increase. "The return on investment has been very meager," he explains. "We have to find revenue to pay down debt and for rehab on the garage."

He notes that the increases were approved by the city.

City Manager Gary O'Connell defends the higher rates. "I don't see the nominal increase in the parking fee structure as being a detriment to enjoying the entertainment, restaurants and shops downtown," he writes in an email. "We need to maintain an environment in which private contractors are encouraged to invest in parking facilities downtown."

 O'Connell also debunks a rumor– that the nearly 500 free two-hour street spaces are going to change to one-hour. "That option was examined a year ago," he says, "but has not moved forward."

And he offers a suggestion: "[W]e remind visitors and residents that the [Charlottesville Transit System] maintains great routes from downtown to all parts of the city and into the county. With the addition of the new Transit Center, we hope more of our residents will use CTS to live, work, and play downtown."

"Removing that one lot is going to kill me,"says Sandy Ruseau, who runs the John Ruseau Watercolor Gallery in York Place, one of 120 merchants who validate parking.



Moving violations are easy to fix.

Monopoly parking has to get the nix.

"Free Parking" only exists on a depression-era board game. By the time these land-rich lords finish their dirty work, you might be shellin' some "Bill Clintons" ($3 bills) to park here.
Good tune, though. Do you play dance music?

Yeah, we do a tune called "Paint it Black." You heard of it..?
Anyhow, that's exactly what my friend, Jimmy, does when he's not crackin' corn. He sports a spade, wears a corporate veil, and gets giddy as he tars the antique oak floor. He thinks he will walk out of the front door, but he's much closer to the back, by the closet, with just a lonely stool, and an open pack of stale crackers. Oddly, he starts to dance the "Wrong 'Em Boyo!!!"