January 15, 2009


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New funding for parking lots seen as challenge by CHPF

Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation representatives admitted last week that it would be challenging to implement a new funding system in which local merchants would be assessed a yearly parking fee based on the number of parking stickers they gave to customers in fiscal year 2008, but they said the benefits outweighed the risks.

“People want free parking in Chestnut Hill,” said John Ingersoll, the foundation’s president. “Without free parking we’re done.”

Ingersoll said that competition from big box stores in Plymouth Meeting, where parking is ample and free, was undercutting the Hill’s profitability.

The parking foundation could save $45,000 by switching to an assessment system, he said, because it could circumvent a Philadelphia law requiring parking vendors to remit 20 percent of their revenues to the city. No longer printing stickers would save another $15,000, and because the foundation would only need seven employees to run the lots instead of 22, there would be an estimated 30 to 40 percent reduction in labor costs.

“We know we can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” board member Greg Welsh said, citing the foundation’s growing budget deficit (the exact figure was not mentioned at the meeting).

But for the system to work, Ingersoll said, every business in Chestnut Hill would have to participate.

“All businesses need to pay,” he said. “It needs to be fair to the system.”

Even new businesses should share the burden to some extent, he said, adding that a $500 assessment seemed equitable based on average calculations for the past fiscal year.

Still, some business owners voiced concern after scrutinizing the new system at a public meeting held in the Chestnut Hill Library on Jan. 7.

Wendy Feldman, owner of Fringe and the Elysium Spa, wondered how effective parking lot monitors would be at deterring non-customers from taking up spots reserved for patrons.

Feldman also wanted to know where Avenue employees would park, and she questioned whether the assessments would be applied fairly considering that they were derived from a time before the economy took a nosedive.

Furthermore, she asked how Hillers could expect the Avenue to thrive again if stores continued to close or stay empty.

Metropolitan Bakery owner Jim Lilly also was concerned with the effects of the economic downturn, as most economists expect the recession to drag through the first half of this year.

He asked what recourse there might be for struggling business owners, who might not be able to afford their assessments.

“We’re worried, too,” Welsh said.

Nonetheless, the parking foundation representatives said they would remedy those and other issues that arose. They believe the new system will succeed if everyone is on board by Feb. 1, when the system will be put into place.