It costs more to park for a month in downtown Hartford than in many much larger U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Miami and Dallas, a new survey shows, but local parking officials say those rates may be ready to fall.
In a ranking of average monthly rates in 108 major U.S. cities, Hartford placed 24th at $160, according to the National Parking Association’s first survey of North American rates. New York City and Boston finished first and second at $479 and $437, respectively.
In a ranking of 12-hour daily rates in 108 U.S. cities, Hartford placed 16th at $18.50, more than in Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C., Tampa and St. Louis. San Diego and New York finished one and two at $41.00 and $38.50, respectively.
But several factors — from higher gas prices to cuts in the downtown work force to a decline in headliner events — are putting pressure on Hartford parking facilities to reduce rates.
“At this point, the supply is definitely more than the demand,” said Jim Marzi, regional vice president for LAZ Parking, which operates 20 lots in Hartford. “We’ve lost some serious demand with companies like MetLife leaving, and it’s impacted us severely.”
Marzi also pointed the finger at high gas prices and tough economic times that have led, in his opinion, to more people carpooling, taking buses or working from home.
In addition, parking revenues from events dropped about 10 percent last year and are on pace for another 10 percent drop in 2008, he said.
“From where I’m sitting, we’re very scared about event revenue,” Marzi said, adding that overall business is down 15 percent this year.
The complaints regarding the price to park downtown is far from a new phenomenon.
Hartford Parking Authority executive director James Kopencey cited a three-year-old survey that found downtown parking prices were the 10th highest in the nation.
“We used to hear from people that their lunch cost less than their parking did when they came downtown,” Kopencey said. “It was an issue we tried to address, but I believe there’s more of a downward spiral to come.”
The HPA operates three garages — the Church Street, MAT and Morgan Street garages — and on-street parking. Since 2005, prices for monthly spots have been reduced from $160 to $150, while the price for a two-hour stay has fallen from $7 to $3. And the hourly rate for curbside parking is now $1, down from $1.50.
There has also been significant pressure on the HPA to retain corporate clients.
Kopenecy cited an example of a business that paid $140 per spot for 700 vehicles before it left the city. The HPA found another 700-vehicle group to replace that lost client, but the new rate dropped to between $90 and $100 per spot.
“It’s forced downward pressure on our competitors, but it’s been necessary for us to keep our business,” Kopenecy said.
And there is trouble looming on the horizon, he added, as the price of constructing parking facilities has more than doubled in the past four years.
“At some point, the city is going to have to figure out how to fund these parking structures while parking rates are going down,” Kopenecy said. “I don’t know if it’s a public-private partnership that would work, but we’re going to have to pull a rabbit out of our hats at some point.”
It is not all gloom and doom to Stathis Manousos, general manger for Central Parking, which has 16 lots in the city.
“The heart of the central business district has always been expensive,” he said. “But if you’re willing to walk a couple of blocks, there are very reasonable alternatives.”
Manousos said the perception of a parking problem in Hartford doesn’t square with the facts.
“There are still 20,000 parking spots in Hartford and 50, plus or minus, managed parking facilities in the city,” he said. “We’re there to support the eclectic mix of retail and business in Hartford.”
But Marzi said he expects a reduction in parking rates or an increase in automated parking lots, which would mean the elimination of jobs.
“I’m fighting to keep those jobs, and I don’t know if Hartford wants automation,” Marzi said. “But the price of everything has gone up. We’re trying to do what we can by lowering rates, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The National Parking Association survey found that only one smaller city — Century City, Calif. — had higher monthly and daily rates than Hartford.
But every other city that had higher rates for either monthly or daily parking was substantially larger.
“Parking rates are largely driven by economic supply and demand,” said Marty Stein, president of the NPA, which is based in Washington, D.C. “Our industry is a proven form of supply and demand.”
“It just seems that high rates are a function of inadequate supply versus significant demand,” he added.
Stein added that city parking demand comes from either the workday crowd arriving from the suburbs or crowds brought into the city for cultural and sporting events and to shop and eat.