I have lived in Charleston since 1988, and Michael since 2006, way before it was the culinary and tourist destination it has become. Life was simple as downtown was contained to only a few blocks of varying businesses. It was affordable. Shit, even a ticket parking in front of the airport (pre 9/11) was only $5 bucks. Well worth it!
Well, my friends, times are a-changin’. First, as mentioned, there were only a few blocks of businesses and most of them not F&B related. Today, however, the College of Charleston has seen tremendous growth and has contributed to the parking debacle. On the F&B front, back in the day, restaurants were located on lower King, Meeting, Market, and East Bay streets. Look at the landscape of Charleston today. It still begins on Broad Street, but spans clear to North Meeting Street and King St Extension. I understand change, but the city of Charleston has not kept up with that change by providing the infrastructure needed to grow along with the businesses and tourism it’s attracted. I can’t remember a new parking garage being built in years. Charleston has done a tremendous job in attaining all the accolades it has in recent years, but residents suffer.
Driving to work and parking is frankly laughable. It’s a major issue that impacts every business owner and employee working downtown. There are 7,700 hospitality workers and growing as we continue to build hotels, bars, restaurants, and other businesses. Something’s gotta give. To be fair, the city has been working on a plan to have 170 parking spaces (pissing in the wind) on city owned property down Morrison Drive. We’ve been hearing about this for quite a while. We’re not sure what is taking so long since the lot is there and so are the CARTA busses for transport. Good start, but let’s get it going.
Years ago the VA created a park and ride lot that runs all day long with shuttles. Granted, they are a one stop shop, but this can at least become the outline to create a looped route and drop people close to their place of work for those in F&B. Several methods should be used to take pressure off of the parking fiasco and bring about an affordable solution. Another option to consider is getting the city to support a reduced parking rate in the garages. I know the Ann Street garage is never full. Employees, upon checking into work, can get their ticket stamped for a reduced rate on the way out of the lot. This might be taking place with some businesses, but not sure how many.
To those who argue, you should ride your bike to work, that’s all well and good if you live downtown, but the high cost of living is driving people out and forcing them to live elsewhere. Charleston is not yet equipped to serve the biking community. You are taking your life in your hands crossing the bridges and riding home after people have been out for the night and might be drinking and driving. If you’re brave enough to bike to work, once again, there are not enough bike racks to service those people, so people lock their bikes to parking meters or street signs, running the risk of a ticket, or even having their bikes stolen.
As for the proposed plan to increase the parking meter fees to $2 an hour, rotating spaces, and making those metered spots payable till 10pm., let me get this right, the city wants people to come downtown to support the bars and restaurants, but wants to continue charging meters while people are eating dinner or seeing a show? Does the city think that people out for a night are going to get up and leave in the middle of a meal, drink, or show to move a car? I’d sooner move my car than add additional money because that is considered “feeding the meter” and that my friends is a parking enforcement no-no resulting in an enforceable code 406 violation with a $14 price tag. What employee could leave their job to do the same? You know this will all likely result in the city deploying more parking enforcement, including 24 hour cameras to keep an eye on those that are meter tampering. But hey, writing more tickets equals additional revenue.
I can’t help but think of the hotel workers, kitchen employees, and the like, that make just about or slightly above minimum wage. This parking meter increase will hurt them the most. And yet more hotels are still being built. The cost of living, health insurance, and parking downtown is unaffordable for many. The pay is not conducive to the cost and logistics of working/parking downtown. It is getting to the point that a shared Uber or commuting together is the only way to cut down the cost.
But don’t worry, on Tuesday City Council will vote to spend $220K on hiring Kimley-Horn — a company not based in Charleston probably because they can’t find a parking spot — to conduct a parking study. We will have to wait till September for this riveting information that will tell us how many spots exist and where new garages should be built.
Meanwhile, like a cast of hungry hawks, we’ll continue to circle the peninsula in search of the elusive two-hour parking spot.
Randi Weinstein has working in and around the hospitality industry her whole life. As the director of the events for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival for seven years, she helped elevate Charleston’s growing food and beverage scene. Today she runs FAB, a hospitality conference for women.
Michael Curtis is a hospitality professional with 30 years experience in major markets coast to coast.