Valet Parking Ordinance Coming

June 21, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Even though Philadelphia has some things that other cities may want to emulate, like cheese steaks, there is one thing Philly has become famous for that local officials are desperately trying not to copy — its valet parking business.

The business has turned brutal in the City of Brotherly Love and has sprung more cracks than the Liberty Bell. Business owners there have found themselves embroiled in heated verbal assaults with valet parkers on a regular basis — especially in Old City, a sector that has some of Philly’s better restaurants.

“There’s a lot of frustration and disgust with the valet situation,” said Laurie Townsend, general manager of the Philadelphia Fish & Co.

Townsend told a local reporter that she constantly spars verbally with rude valets over parking spaces.

“Our customers can’t find on-street parking,” she said. “A space will open, and one guy will stand in it while another valet zooms over. They park in all the 20-minute loading zones, then switch cars every 19 minutes.”

Restaurant revenues have dropped and suburbanites aren’t returning to Old City.

Business owners there said the main reason for all the parking angst is a lack of regulation of the service. So Grand Rapids officials are trying not to be like Philly, wanting to avoid the angst, spats and lost business revenue without doing something drastic to the city’s valet parking companies.

“Nobody wants to kill valet parking,” said Parking Commissioner Jack Hoffman.

Complaints from business owners surfaced earlier this year about a valet parking firm that operates on Ionia Avenue, just south of Fulton Street in a sector coincidently known as Old Town. Those gripes alleged that valet parkers hogged all the curbside spaces for the two businesses they serviced, which sent customers of other businesses away.

“What we have now is virtually no regulation,” said Mayor John Logie, who stressed that he wants to find an acceptable solution for both sides in the valet parking dilemma.

At the urging of the Parking Commission and Parking Services Department, which heard the complaints, the City Attorney’s office is writing an ordinance to regulate valet parking. The contentious issue is whether valets should be allowed to park cars in curbside spaces.

Mike McGuire, an attorney with the city, reported that he is working on a draft, which features three criteria. He said the public right-of-way has to be kept open for public use, that parking meters have to turn over on a regular basis, and that a system to license valet parkers has to be created.

“It gives us a regulated way of knowing who the people are,” said McGuire.

A pretty foregone conclusion is that valet parkers will have to do most of their parking in off-street sites, either ramps or lots. An ordinance may allow for a few curbside spaces to be designated as pick-up and drop-off sites, but it’s likely that most downtown meters will be left open to the general parking public. The city may introduce an ordinance on a trial basis and then tweak it for the final version, which needs City Commission approval.

Parking Commissioner Michael Ellis said an ordinance shouldn’t dictate the quality and details of a valet parking operation. That, he felt, the market should decide. Hoffman added that the complaining business owners didn’t want valet parkers excessively regulated, either. Instead, he said, their main concern was to make metered spaces available to customers.

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