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Santa Rosa Plaza owner unveils pay-to-park program

Friday, February 17th, 2012 | Posted by

The Munoz family of Nicole and Eduardo with their children Sophiya, 1, Ethan, 5 and Addyson, 4, prepare for an evening of shopping at the Santa Rosa Plaza, Thursday Feb. 16, 2012. Officials with Simon announced that the corporation will start charging for parking at Santa Rosa largest indoor mall. (KENT PORTER/ PD)

By KEVIN McCALLUM & CATHY BUSSEWITZ
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The 30-year run of free parking at the Santa Rosa Plaza mall will end this summer.

Officials from Simon Property Group distributed letters to merchants and city officials Thursday announcing a new controlled-parking program that will charge people up to $9 per day to park in the downtown mall’s five garages.

The program will allow shoppers to park for free for 90 minutes. Any portion of the next 90 minutes will cost $2. Four hours will cost $4, up to six hours will cost $8, and more than six hours will cost $9. Overnight parking will not be permitted.

Mall officials expect the program to free up spaces that are routinely occupied by drivers who park at the shopping center while they work downtown.

“We’ve realized that we were lacking an amenity for shoppers, and we were trying to work on a solution,” said Kelly Hartsell, regional vice president for Simon Property Group.

But some worry that eliminating the last inventory of free parking downtown will hurt employees and give people one more reason to shop elsewhere.

“I’m very, very concerned that they are making a big mistake,” said City Councilman Jake Ours. “I don’t think this is going to serve them well in any way, shape or form.”

Simon should be trying to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to come downtown, and if they charge for parking people might just head to Coddingtown, Ours said. Several mall customers and employees agreed the program would have a negative impact.

Justyn Delbridge, 21, sells appliances at Sears, and said it often takes him 90 minutes sell an appliance.

“A lot of people who come in to shop are shopping at multiple stores, they’re going to need more than 90 minutes,” he said.

On Thursday Keith Moore, 40, parked in a Plaza garage and headed to his job at Banana’s, a nearby music store. He said the mall was within its rights.

“It’s tricky. It’s their parking,” Moore said. “But we’re all going to have to find a new place to park.”

Before the mall opens at 9 a.m., hundreds of the Plaza’s parking spaces are occupied by employees of other downtown businesses, according to the letter sent to City Manager Kathy Millison.

“It’s about 400 spaces,” Hartsell said. “It’s amazing, the number of spaces that were taken.”

The Plaza has 3,000 parking spaces.

The mall studied shopping behavior and determined that shoppers spend an average of 68 minutes at the mall, so the average shopper should not be impacted by the change, Hartsell said.

A parking agreement signed in 1978 between the city and developer Ernest W. Hahn, Inc., stipulated that parking would be free for shoppers unless the mall got city approval to begin charging. But that agreement could be terminated if either the city or the mall changed its parking policy, Hartsell said.

“When the city went to paid parking years ago, that was the change in policy that made us able to move forward and terminate the agreement,” Hartsell said.

Last year, after the plan was first proposed, city officials were barraged by critics, especially downtown businesses worried about the impact on employees and customers.

Mayor Ernesto Olivares urged the Simon Property Group to hold off while the city studied the relationship between its parking policies and those of the mall.

Part of the problem has been the city’s parking rates drive people into the mall’s garages in search of free spaces, Olivares said.

“It turned out to be a confusing and complicated issue and something that we didn’t have control over,” Olivares said.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler said there is “not any contractual legal remedy for the city to stop them from moving forward with charging for parking.”

Olivares said he spoke to Hartsell Wednesday and urged her to be sensitive to what a controversial issue parking is in the city. She agreed to work with the city on days when there are large special events downtown, and to make adjustments to the program if necessary, such as to the 90 minute limit, Olivares said.

He said he didn’t share Ours’ concern about the plan being bad for business. It is just as possible that shoppers will like the increased availability of spaces near the entrances, which is the mall’s goal, he said.

“It think it’s too early to really judge what the long term impacts will be,” Olivares said.

The mall is the largest downtown employer, with 120 businesses employing about 1,500 people, according to David Gouin, the city’s director of economic development and housing.

“We want to make sure the Plaza thrives, and if their tenants feel this is the best option to manage their parking and it would be good for business, we have to trust their decision,” Gouin said.

Each retailer will receive parking access cards for their employees, and the program will begin this summer, mall manager Laura Kozup said in a letter to merchants.

Over the years, the mall unsuccessfully tried various ways to deter downtown employees from parking in the lot, such as installing chains across exits.

“We finally gave up on chains two years ago because people would get out of their car and undo the chains, or drive right over them,” Hartsell said.

The mall will install a system of gates controlling access to the garages, and shoppers will pay at kiosks or at the exits, Hartsell said.

Preliminary work should begin in March or April, she said. She declined to give a revenue projection for the program.

She noted that the per-hour rates increase the longer someone parks, making the city garages a more cost-effective option for non-shoppers.

The city charges for parking in its five garages and 10 surface lots. The rate in garages is 75 cents an hour with a maximum daily rate of $8. Monthly garage permits cost from $62 to $140.

  • Amy

    When this mall was built it bisected Santa Rosa’s downtown and destroyed the community. No matter how much redevelopment money is thrown at integrating this horrid behemoth into downtown, it never works. The least the owners could do is provide free parking for whomever wants is. What a huge mistake it was to allow the plaza to be built.

  • Susan

    This is just about the stupidest idea I’ve heard in a LONG time!! What idiots! Their argument for the proposal of paid parking this is totally flawed! There are LOADS of parking spaces there in those ugly (and sometimes dangerous) garages…so what if local workers are parking there?? There’s plenty for everyone, even during the holidays. The Plaza is a huge blemish on the face of Santa Rosa…always has, always will be. And now I have even more of an incentive to never shop there!!

  • http://Lyndagw@hotmail.com Lynda

    We stopped dinning and shopping in downtown Santa Rosa due to the price of parking. Now we will no longer shop at the Plaza. Santa Rosa, you are shooting yourself in the foot by charging the public to support your businesses that bring in your tax revenue. You need to learn that you can only gouge people so much before they take their dollars somewhere else. We do have choices. Hello Coddingtown, Montgomery Villiage and other cities who are consumer friendly. It is unfortunate that the downtown merchants have to suffer due to the city of Santa Rosa’s greed and lack of foresight and backbone.

  • Correy

    So the owners should let anyone and everyone park there, even at the expense of there customers. Does this mall provide a tax revenue for the city. Isn’t the tax amount dependant on the the amount of sales generated. So why would anyone complain that the mall owner, which by the way is the largest employer in the city, is trying to help its tenants to increase their sales. People that come onto this private property and take up spaces that could go to customers that are spending money, should not be allowed to do so. If they choose to work downtown, then with that goes the expense of parking. Those individuals should take that expense up with there employers.l

  • El

    What Santa Rosa does not realize is that in order for paid parking to work, there has to be a product worth paying for. For instance, universities and many places of work charge for parking because they offer something that makes paying for parking worthwhile.

    Paid parking for shopping will not work if 1) many of the stores are not even worth going to 2) there is no guarantee you’ll buy anything to make paid parking worthwhile. and most importantly 3) when the shops aren’t unique enough.

    I remember in St. Louis, the St. Louis Centre Mall started charging parking ($6 to $10) and that only escalated the mall’s downfall. In the end, people flocked to the various malls in the county, most of which thrive well today, with no paid parking I might add.

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