Parking spaces downtown reserved for valet parking in pilot project 

Not-so-public parking

click to enlarge Six parking spaces outside The Famous are now reserved after 6 p.m. for valet service, but also passenger drop spots. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Six parking spaces outside The Famous are now reserved after 6 p.m. for valet service, but also passenger drop spots.

Millionaire Perry Sanders recently snagged some new downtown real estate: six public parking spaces on Tejon Street in front of his upscale restaurant, The Famous, to use as valet parking.

"This is taking a little risk factor out of what I would say is probably the highest-traffic block in the city," says Sanders, who also owns The Antlers, a Wyndham Hotel, and the historic Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Grand Hotel & Spa. "We think we're providing a service for our customers and we're providing a safe zone we think people will enjoy [when] using ride share services and not worry about getting hit by a car."

Sanders worked with the city to create a six-month pilot project to test the viability of using spaces in front of The Famous, 31 N. Tejon, for valet parking drop-off (he's allowing ride share services to pull into the spaces too). Sanders will pay $180 a month to have private use of the slots after 6 p.m. — there's no charge for meter parking after that time.

"They are basically paying for their exclusive use at night," says city spokesperson Kim Melchor.

While giving a private company control over public parking spaces downtown raises the eyebrows of a couple of city councilors, business owners in that area say they aren't bothered by it and passersby who spoke to the Independent only had one question: Is he paying for it?

One of those was Tim Jaeger of Denver, who was visiting downtown on a recent day. "As long as he will pay for it, I have no issue with it," he says. "It's revenue for the city."

Parking Enterprise Director Scott Lee says after Sanders inquired, the city decided to try a pilot project that began March 25 and will last six months.

"The Famous is responsible to place special meter bags on each meter they intend to utilize each evening no earlier than 6pm, and remove the meter bags when the valet services are finished for the evening," Lee says via email.

While Sanders can petition to extend the program beyond six months, Lee says, "It is the intent of the City to wait until this initial pilot program is complete before it would consider to be expanded to include other locations or businesses." No others have inquired about a similar program, he says.

Sanders says besides making it easier for customers to frequent The Famous, it's also a safety measure.

"You don't [put] people in a situation where they're potentially put in harm's way in traffic in the dark," he says. "We think it would be really cool to have a designated ride share services place for people to safely get in and out of vehicles and not do that in the middle of the street." (Tejon Street is three lanes — one lane in each direction with a middle lane for delivery and turning vehicles.)

"It's an experiment," Sanders adds. "We want to make sure it's not disruptive in any way." He notes he's created jobs by hiring valets to handle customers' vehicles.

Sanders says the Mining Exchange has a drop-off area facing Nevada Avenue that's used by anyone visiting the hotel or any other business in the vicinity. Those signs read, "30 min parking Passenger Loading Zone."

"It works great for us at the Mining Exchange," he says. "It tends to create additional activity, which tends to discourage people from [lingering] around various front doors. Activity deters criminal behavior. We think it will be overall good for downtown."

Susan Edmondson with the Downtown Partnership supports the pilot project. "I think with the rapid pace of change Downtown exploring new approaches through pilot tests is a reasonable approach," she says in an email. "With the growth of ride hailing services, micro-mobility options and much more, along with the growing patronage Downtown, we need to be open to new approaches and see how they work."

The Famous stands next to Cowboys bar. "He and I are in step all the way," says Sam Guadagnoli, an owner of Cowboys. He and Sanders agree the six spots would be a good drop point for ride-sharing services after The Famous closes at 9 or 10 p.m.

"For months we talked about it," Guadagnoli says. "I understand why he wants it and needs it, and I just said, 'Perry, if it's possible, I'd like to see Ubers park there.' I also think it helps the whole downtown if we could use it for Ubers."

Some businesses or offices near The Famous aren't open beyond 6 p.m.: The Public Defender's Office closes at 4:45 p.m. weekdays and Community Bank closes at 5 p.m. weekdays.

At least two downtown competitors of The Famous expressed no concerns. Kressa Baier with The Melting Pot, 30 E. Pikes Peak Ave., says while valet parking might be nice to have, she didn't think her restaurant would be game to add valet workers.

At MacKenzie's Chop House, 128 S. Tejon St., general manager Mark Biondo doesn't envy Sanders' parking agreement either. "We're not interested in it," Biondo says. "It's pricey, and I think we can get away without it, because it's easy enough to park down here."

Councilors Andy Pico and Bill Murray hadn't heard of the pilot. Pico declined to comment without knowing more, but Murray says, "I don't like it. It does take away parking spaces."

Council President Richard Skorman, who runs two restaurants, a toy store and a book store in the 300 block of North Tejon, had heard of the program but isn't completely on board, yet.

"If it's just to park cars for The Famous, it doesn't seem like a good reason to block it off to other people," he says. "But the notion of having cars park somewhere [else] so they're not taking up [street parking] space isn't a bad notion. I'm not opposed to the idea, but I want to understand what the purpose is."

As for Sanders, he's hoping the pilot leads the city to designate more drop-off points downtown. "We're the guinea pigs," he says.

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