The Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville said in April it wasn’t taking sides in the parking wars fueled by litigation between the city and Mark Brown, owner of the Charlottesville Parking Center. That course changed when Violet Crown hired public relations firm Payne Ross, also a DBAC member, which circulated a petition calling for the city to maintain its ownership in the Water Street Parking Garage out of fear Brown will raise the rates.
“CPC wants to raise rates to market rates to as much as the market will bear,” says Robert Crane, an executive with Violet Crown Cinemas.
The Austin-based deluxe theater chain opened in November in the former Regal Cinema site and pays 35 cents an hour for the parking it validates, a rate Crane says the theater was given before it began construction. “We built our theater on reliance of that,” he says.
Brown bought CPC in 2014. By the time the theater was ready to open, says Crane, the rate had doubled.
Violet Crown went to the city, which pitched in 20 cents an hour for a rate of 55 cents an hour, says Chris Engel, director of economic development. “We thought it was important to keep the rate the same as Regal’s. They also bring a lot of people downtown.”
Merchants downtown can opt for different parking validation programs, all of which are subsidized to some extent, says Engel. “They don’t pay market rate. Validation is intended to make downtown more accessible to customers.”
George Benford is the new chair of the DBAC and he says the board voted on the April letter asking the two sides to settle the matter quickly because members didn’t want the Water Street Garage to close, something Brown at that time had not ruled out in his ongoing dispute with the city.
Brown filed suit against the city in March, claiming he’s being forced to keep the Water Street Garage rates below market rate—and below the rates charged in the city-owned Market Street Garage. The city sued Brown April 29, alleging it didn’t get right of first refusal on parking spaces Wells Fargo sold Brown.
Coming up with a petition on parking wasn’t on the agenda at the May 25 DBAC meeting, Benford says. “The gentleman from Violet Crown stood up and wanted to start a petition,” he says. “Emotions got a little high.”
When the question was asked whether parking should be like a public utility, Benford says he was one of two there who thought the garage should be private.
Payne Ross e-mailed a petition and a notice for a June 2 DBAC “open and impartial discussion on the future of parking garages” in downtown Charlottesville at Violet Crown. Payne Ross principal Susan Payne says DBAC hasn’t taken a position on the parking issue and she’s representing her client, Violet Crown. “This isn’t a DBAC petition,” she says.
“I think there’s been a lack of sunshine on this whole business,” says Payne. “People would like to know what going on. Misinformation or lack of information makes people uncomfortable.”
Citing litigation, Brown declines to comment on the petition. “The city and I are working toward a resolution,” he says.
Joan Fenton, owner of Quilts Unlimited and J. Fenton Too, says she pays $90 a month for parking validation. “I think the city should provide some of the parking downtown,” she says. “If you don’t have parking, you’ve killed the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Fenton doesn’t want the city to sell its share of the Water Street Garage because, she says, the city historically has sold properties they shouldn’t, such as the current McGuireWoods site on Court Square at a time when there was discussion about the courts needing to be enlarged.
“I think the city should be a partner in making neighborhoods thrive,” she says. “This neighborhood needs parking.”
Fenton has no problem with the city subsidizing Violet Crown. “That’s not unprecedented,” she says, pointing out that the city gave money to the Paramount and the Sprint Pavilion. “If that’s what helped get that theater here, great,” she says. “This is a huge draw.”
“We bring 1,000 people a night downtown,” says Crane. “That’s a good thing for downtown and that’s a good thing for CPC.”
The DBAC meeting at the Violet Crown will be held at 5:30pm tonight and is open to the public.