Chamber Parking Presentation to Town Board
Chamber Parking Presentation to Town Board
The Chamber was invited to present the business perspective on paid parking in the Town Board's reading session on October 26. Here is the letter we sent:
To: Mayor Koenig, Town of Estes Park Board of Trustees, Town Administrator Machalek, and the Public Works Department
From: Estes Chamber Members and Downtown Businesses, presented by Executive Director Donna Carlson
Date: October 26, 2021
Regarding: Voice of Business on Paid Parking in 2021
Thank you for the opportunity to present the voice of the business community as you evaluate the inaugural year of the paid parking program in Estes Park. We recognize that it is not customary to invite external parties to present to the Town Board in a process like this and we recognize your gesture as an interest in supporting the business community.
The Estes Chamber of Commerce wants to state clearly that the views expressed in this report represent only a fraction of our 321 members. As the voice of business in Estes Park, the Chamber is its members and therefore the organization does not express an opinion on any matter outside of the opinions of our members. We conducted an online survey extended to members and the general public and want to acknowledge that the 66 responses don’t begin to capture the thoughts of all 321 members, but we present this information under the assumption that the members with the most interest in influencing this board’s decisions regarding the future of paid parking have spoken.
Figure 1. Membership status of survey participants
Figure 2. Business location of survey participants
Figure 3. Opinion of survey participants on the question, "Do you support paid parking in Estes Park?"
The following quotes represent opinions pro, con and neutral, highlighting some key factors for this Board to consider regarding the future implementation of the program.
It has enhanced our near 3000+ customers access to downtown and increased parking availability. Paid Parking has increased the reliability of finding a parking space sooner than the usual circling around for 20+ minutes. Paid Parking positively influences the customer experience by reducing congestion, reducing the horrible exhaust fumes and reducing the impulse to avoid downtown's mayhem. Our customers are part of the billion-dollar industry that enjoys the outdoors and healthy lifestyles. Paid Parking aligns with their expectations of a mountain community that values environmental stewardship and wellness.
This replaced 3-hour parking in front of the restaurant. At three hours there was a turnover. Now people can park in one space for the entire day as long as they pay. This has eliminated the turnover we used to have. During the wine fest the fencing made the pay kiosk unavailable. They had an "ambassador" talking to everyone that parked in front of the restaurant about the paid parking. The majority left! All the parking on the park side of the street was given to the festival. The same thing happened on Labor Day. All the parking was given to the out-of-town merchants as well as the parking on MacGregor. We had several parties cancel because of the parking issue. Even people that were only coming to pick up take out were parking in the alley behind the building and walking around to be able to pick up. In my 30 years in this location, this is the worst I have seen.
I want to be clear that I am not happy about paid parking, but I think that the money collected from the program could be a huge benefit to the town if the funds are used wisely. I don't think that paid parking has had that much of an impact on my business. I also think that there is a fair balance of both paid and unpaid parking available. I was very disappointed in the employee parking program, however. Limiting employee parking to one parking area in town was very frustrating, the $40 charge is high for businesses that have multiple employees, and my one employee that I had for the summer ended up just getting into town early enough to find parking in free spaces, and the permit that I paid for was not even used once. I do wish that a plan for the funds collected was created and presented to the town before the program was implemented, and I also think that another free parking garage should have been built in town before paid parking was put in place, preferably on the other side of town (possibly by the amphitheater) and shuttles used to take visitors back and forth between the two parking garages.
We don't believe there is any direct correlation between our business this season and paid parking. We don't think it helped or hurt. Like anything in life, there are pros and cons. If everyone knew that the funds generated from the paid parking were actually going to help the customers, businesses, and locals, we think the buy-in would be greater.
Because this survey captured only 39.4% of downtown business opinions, the Chamber did not feel this adequately captured the voice of business most affected by paid parking, so we conducted a door-to-door survey of 57 downtown businesses over the past two months. This chart represents the sentiment of these verbatim responses. Of the 57 we spoke to 5 spoke positively of paid parking, 38 spoke negatively of it and 14 were neutral. 30 said that the app was very confusing and frustrating for guests. 16 had concerns on the effect of day trippers coming up in the future. Most expressed an interest in a revised permit program for employees.
Here are a few representative quotes from the door-to-door survey.
I am always able to find a parking spot in the library lot to go to work. The lighting to the parking garage is not good, so I like being able to park close to work.
Paid parking has put undue stress on free parking lots like lower Stanley Village where my business is located. We had to hire additional enforcement so people wouldn’t park in the free lot and take up all of our parking spots.
It is a very confusing process to pay for parking, especially for our older guests. I also don’t like the idea of an out of state company putting tickets on our guest’s cars. They feel like they are getting nickel and dimed and feels like they are rushed.
My business license cost less than my parking permits for my employees.
As a community member I like it, as a library director my constituents are not happy. (In the online survey a nonprofit reported lower attendance at library programs.)
I have had day trippers tell me, “You guys need us and we have supported you through fires and floods and this feels like a punishment. We won’t be back.”
One of our members conducted his own primary research on visitor opinions, posted on EstesParking.com. Here are the high-level results and representative quotes:
The town is biting the hand that feeds it.... period.
Makes it an impossible trip. Estes is already expensive, but this just adds to it.
I won't pay to park to go shopping. What I will do is drive to another community and shop there. I've been coming to Estes Park for 45 years now... You have caused a great disservice to the shop and restaurant owners in this town.
It completely takes away from the charm of a small, quaint mountain town.
We acknowledge that human nature is more likely to complain when we are dissatisfied than when we are satisfied. Some guests admitted not knowing where the free lots were located or that we had any. Some didn’t realize paid parking ended at 6 p.m. The Car Park has responded to many of these facts with clearer, easier to read signage.
We chose these quotes to illustrate why we highlighted the following deductions from this data and recommendations for your consideration.
Deductions from the dataOur primary observation echoes what Parking & Transit reported – “It is important to be clear that staff are not representing the results of our outreach efforts as statistically significant.” The Chamber Executive Director participated in outreach efforts as a neutral faction both with Parking & Transit personnel (33 conversations) and with a downtown business owner (57 conversations). We found that the responses were significantly influenced by who was asking the question. In the Parking & Transit conversations, most responses were positive. In the business owner conversations, most people were vocal of their disapproval. We acknowledge that any time the surveyor has a personal stake in the outcome of the survey, it takes a great deal of intention to hide any bias in the questioning process, as much as we tried. This signifies the need for a professional, neutral third-party survey that captures the mind of the customer and the perspective of business owners.
The Chamber also wants to clearly state that most businesses do not feel that the increase in sales tax revenue in 2021 can be used as evidence for the success of the program. We also acknowledge that a decrease in revenue next year may be related to a shift in the pandemic and may be related to parking. The only way to make an educated guess is through an unbiased third-party survey. There are many wildcard factors in the success of our business community this year related to the pandemic. The reasons that overall occupancy was up 71% over 2020 and 12% over 2019 is directly proportional to the increase in visitors after being shut in for a year. We urge you to consider the success of this program outside of that data.
Despite the good intention of the Public Works Department to communicate the approved plan in 2018 and the delayed rollout in 2021, there is a perception among guests and some business owners that the paid parking program is being done without their consent to harm the business community or because “the town is greedy.” In several conversations to explain the purpose for the program and the benefits, some perceive this to be smoke and mirrors. The dissonance indicates a lack of trust that predates this program.
- There is a critical need for the Town to establish trust with the business community. The Chamber shares this burden by helping to provide a platform for members of the business community to be heard and to share that data with the Town.
- Communications with the Chamber from visitors has all been negative, but we would not expect a visitor to call the Chamber to say, “Good job on the parking.”
- Employee convenience is a factor for Chamber members, with a primary concern for the safety of employees walking through poorly lit streets after late shifts.
- The unavailability of parking for employees at certain times of day necessitated alternate parking options that rendered their $40 employee pass useless.
- While we are grateful that the Board approved 60 minutes of free parking for locals, if you manage to limit a meeting or lunch to one hour, that still requires 10-15 minutes on both ends for transit to and from parking. Would the Board consider extending that local time permit to two hours?
- Private lot owners were forced to spend their revenue dollars on additional signage because of decisions outside their control. Because every owner developed a parking strategy at their own discretion, there is a confusing lack of uniformity.
- A group of 30 business owners in a Downtown Alliance meeting requested that we ask the Board to consider cancelling the program, others have suggested that we request a reduction in the number of days for the program to end with Elk Fest.
- Parking & Transit has offered to expand shuttle service to accommodate late employee shifts, but it’s hard for workers to predict when their shifts will end. It makes sense to subsidize an alternative ride service for restaurant workers.
- Many merchants experienced disgruntled feedback from day trippers from Colorado. We strongly suggest enhancing the Town’s PR campaign to the Front Range and extending a voucher or special permit price to Front Range visitors.
- Our lodging personnel held the burden of communicating with guests both the park reservation system and the new paid parking system.
- Several businesses have stated that paid parking feels like an additional tax that piles on the burden of sales tax they already pay.
We don’t believe in presenting problems without presenting solutions, so the following section details some recommendations to consider for the use of parking revenue.
Recommendation for the use of parking revenueMany members have expressed concern that the Town has not presented a plan for the use of parking revenue. Even though the program approved in 2018 clearly stated a phase four plan to increase parking downtown, there is no stated interim plan for those revenue dollars. We recognize that parking expenses are a cost of doing business, but we would like to present the fact that parking was not in place when many of our businesses set up shop; many feel it’s been imposed against their consent. Here are a few ways the Board can show good faith to the business community with that $300,000 in revenue.
- Fund a professional third-party survey of guests (in partnership with Visit Estes Park) and business owners in the summer of 2022 with person-on-the-street interviews.
- Share the burden of private lot owners to produce signage and reimburse them for a portion of this expense or provide branded signage to them in the future that will create a more unified experience for our guests.
- Create a reimbursement program for unused employee passes or to subsidize employee parking and share a portion that burden with the business owner.
- Broker an agreement or voucher system with ride share companies who can augment the shuttle program with rides for hire after 9 p.m.
- Create and market discounted permits for Front Range visitor.
- Create discounted bundles for hotels and vacation rentals to offer parking passes.
- Pay for additional lighting from the tunnel to the parking garage and on the west end of town, extending past Performance Park to the Fall River Village.
- Thank you for acknowledging the need to fund wayfinding signage! Businesses would especially appreciate signs for how to find restrooms, but also signage about playing in the river and clearer signage prohibiting overnight parking.
- Fix Cleave St. aesthetically, drainage.
- Shore up the railing on the Water Wheel bridge.
- Designate parking for business owners and employees.
- Build additional parking downtown before advancing to Phase 3 of the approved plan to increase parking in lots with greater than 85% occupancy.
Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this process. We have attached in the Appendix to this report the verbatim responses from the Chamber’s online survey, a sample of responses from the door-to-door survey and a comprehensive list of the raw data collected at EstesParking.com. We’ve learned a lesson from this process about the importance of normalized data – collected in a consistent way that captures verbatim written responses that can be analyzed by a neutral third party. The Chamber will continue improving our survey methods and building relations with Visit Estes Park on understanding and serving the mind of the customer.
Most importantly, we want to serve this Town Board with the voice of business so you can make informed decisions that will make Estes a great place to visit, live, work and play.
We followed up on November 2 with an expanded addendum that contains responses to all 58 of our door to door interviews downtown.
Town Clerk Williamson, Mayor Koenig and Trustees –
Thank you again for allowing the Chamber to present the voice of business at the Board Meeting October 26. It’s clear that this board wants to support the interests of the business community. Thanks for acknowledging the importance of hearing the first hand comments from our business community on paid parking, knowing that we need to normalize our data collection methods to be statistically valid.
As promised, I’ve attached a revised appendix to our proposal adding the comments we recorded in 58 interviews downtown, to augment our online survey results that didn’t adequately represent downtown business. You’ll see that many of the businesses we interviewed would like to see paid parking go away and there is a segment of our membership who feel it is working well. To underscore what we feel would start to build two-way trust between our business community and Town leadership, we propose:
- Funding a 3rd party survey of guests and employees in the summer of 2022.
- Advancing Phase 4 of the original plan to build additional parking downtown.
- Create a more unified, branded look on paid parking signage downtown for private and public parking.
- Subsidize employee parking and broker a voucher system with ride share companies to provide safe transport to the parking garage after late night shifts.
- Create discounted bundles for hotels and vacation rentals to be the heroes for their guests in offering parking passes during their stay. Discounts for Front Range visitors would allow retail to be the hero as well.
- Invest in improved lighting on the garage end of the tunnel and on the West End of town to improve foot transportation to parking and hotels.
When you vote on November 9, the Chamber will be present to answer questions concerning the business facing issues. Thanks for the opportunity to be at the table.
Building trust between Town and Business,
Phone: (970) 480-7552
Direct: (719) 209-9900
533 Big Thompson Ave, Ste. 103
Mail to: PO Box 2376
Estes Park, CO 80517