by Joe Schwartz
CHAPEL HILL —There’s nowhere to park downtown. It’s too expensive. Chapel Hill has tried to confront these well-worn perceptions for decades. Of late, the town has moved to free parking on Sundays and free valet service, but cries continue for more options.new downtown development plan said free parking costs more than it’s worth. Dan Douglas of KlingStubbins responded with the old, “if I had a nickel for every time I heard that” when Friends Chairwoman Pat Evans made her plea for more free lots.
Referencing “The High Cost of Free Parking” by UCLA Urban Planning Professor Donald Shoup, Douglas explained that visitors are paying for an experience downtown that’s different from malls. Franklin Street is public, and Southpoint Mall is corporate, which means Chapel Hill can market a unique experience, he says.
“If you are trying to compete with malls on the basis of free parking, you will lose every time,” he said.
Douglas believes people will pay, as much as $2 an hour even, if metered spots are available and the downtown offers character and charm. He says it's too costly for a town to give away prime real estate for no return. His pay-to-park opus was met with applause by most of the planners and business owners in the room.