You Want to Know Why Downtown Dallas Will Never Have Free Parking Like Fort Worth?

On New Year's Eve we heard from one poor Pearl at Commerce patron, "Never Parking In a Pay Lot Again," who claims to have gotten the boot even after paying to park in the lot across the street. And, according to Pearl at Comemrce's Tracy Yost, our Friend wasn't the only one who had to pay the $100-plus to get the parking boot removed, which is why Yost has set up the Facebook page "We're Declaring War on the Parking Lot Boot Crooks in downtown Dallas." But from the sound of city officials with whom I spoke yesterday, it won't do much good, because, as you'll recall, parking lot owners downtown aren't required to dole out paper receipts before clamping on the boot till July 1 -- for the most part, because at least one council member stepped in at the last minute to delay implementing the ordinance that took effect in Deep Ellum on January 1.

DowntownDallas president John Crawford, charged with boosting interest in the city center, is well aware of Yost's Facebook page. "These blogs are very active, and we want to present a positive reaction about downtown, so we're vitally interested in that," he tells Unfair Park. "But with the change the council made, given time, that will not become a problem downtown."

I called him yesterday to talk about the larger issue of downtown parking -- and this was before KTVT-Channel 11's story last night concerning efforts to get parking-enforcement officers to write more tickets, lest the city have to pay parking-meter operator ACS yet another penalty for falling short of revenue goals. Says Crawford when asked what recourse patrons have between now and the summer if they're booted for no good reason, "I don't know, based on the council's actions, if anything can be done between now and then."

He's sympathetic, of course: Rampant complaints about parking downtown will only hamper his efforts to lure people to the city center. And he swears most parking-lot owners downtown, with whom he's been meeting in recent months, have "their heart and pocketbooks in the right place ... they're not interested in creating a bigger problem." Still, he acknowledges, "not all are on the same page."

Which is when we got to the subject that always seems to come up whenever the issue of the high price of downtown parking is raised: Why can't downtown Dallas be more like downtown Fort Worth, where at least some parking is absolutely free?

"Honest to goodness, Kourtney [Garrett, vice president of marketing for DowntownDallas] and I were just talking about that issue," Crawford says. (Garrett was also on the call, which Crawford took over speaker.) "The reason is twofold: People have a tendency to compare Dallas to Fort Worth, and the free parking element in Fort Worth is only in Sundance Square. It's not all of downtown Fort Worth. And when you compare the geography of downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth, it's like a postage stamp over there. The main reason that it's set up the way it is is a revenue source for the city of Dallas. And, of course, downtown Fort Worth is privately subsidized by the Basses.

"We get that all the time. Well, it's very simple: It's totally different: They have a small area, which is free. And it's apples to oranges."

At this point, Garrett chimes in.

"What we are going to do in 2010 is better market the city parking garages," she says. "After 5 and on weekends they're $2 flat. There are two garages within a block and a half of Main Street Garden. We're trying to utlize that program to provide a bridge for affordable parking."

Speaking of, one significant turn-off is the fact that meters downtown are so damned stingy -- as in, 25 cents gets you a whole 10 minutes, awfully generous.

"That's the city of Dallas's revenue source," Crawford says. "It's become a fairly big revenue source, and with all the budget problems the city's had, it makes it difficult to talk about slicing off a finger or a hand in terms of revenue sources. We are constantly talking to them about how improve that situation. There's a lot of sensitivity to that issue."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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