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Valet Parking Makes the Post-Dispatch

Downtown resident and Post-Dispatch reporter Doug Moore had a nice piece in yesterday’s paper about valet parking in his everyday column called “Downtown Diary.” I’d link to it but the P-D still has this nasty habit of pulling their stories after a couple weeks, not good for a long-term post such as this. From the story:

…there are no hard and fast rules about how much area can be set aside for valet service — and that’s a bad thing. The cones block lanes of traffic and sometimes stretch an entire block. As more meters are blocked, those who seek free, on-street parking over valet get steamed. There’s been shouting. Cones have been moved or run over. Police have been called.

It’s an issue that caught city leaders off guard.

“Clearly, we need some rules,” said Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, who represents the Central West End, where valet parking also is common. “The self-policing thing hasn’t worked.”

For the record I have never run over a cone, although I know someone who has. Moore continues;

Restaurant managers say they want to be good sports and work with the city.

“I have no problem with the city chiming in,” said Copia owner Eyad Tammas.

Lucas Park Grille manager Katie Herald said the restricted space could present a problem on busy weekends with cars blocking traffic as they wait for valet service.

Eyad Tammas sounds so willing to work with others doesn’t he? Back in October he wasn’t so cooperative, see video of owner (see full post). And for those of you that preferred Antonio French’s edited version of the video, click here.

Last Thursday when the new valet signs went up at Copia & Lucas Park Grille I wanted to get a few quick pictures. Turns out I arrived at Copia while a P-D photographer was there.

Midwest Valet at Copia

This caption is a bit misleading. I parked in a space to the right of the valet zone sign which was pointing left. The valet himself is pointing the opposite direction of where I parked.

Above is the sign in question the following morning. As you can see the arrow points left toward Copia (in background). The space to the right of the sign is not part of the valet zone, which is where I parked the night before when the picture was taken. This confusion on the part of the valets seems to have been cleared up as they were not trying to take this space over the weekend.

I still believe them having the space to the left of the sign is too much space. That gives them a total of 129 feet! The zone, in my view, needs to be moved one space to the left for a total of 106 feet — still a good amount of space (equal to roughly five parking spaces). As the above storefront is vacant and therefore not part of Copia it will be good to keep that space public to help encourage a new tenant as well as serve potential tenants in the adjacent Meridian Loft building (formerly the AD Brown building).

Overall I am pleased with the progress recently being made on this issue. We still have numerous other valet areas which have yet to be tamed by the zone signage but I believe the Streets Department is finally on top of the issue. Once they have created the necessary valet zones throughout the city it will be clear to everyone which businesses are operating without proper permits as well as which companies are trying to reserve an excessive amount of the public street for their private business.


Valet Zones Established on Washington Avenue

Finally! My first mention of valet parking was on December 6, 2005. Today, just over a year later, the problem was basically solved — the city’s Street Department installed signs marking valets zones in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Washington Ave.


The West end of Lucas Park Grille’s valet zone (in the 1200 block) is basically at the end of their restaurant, as it should be.  [Update 1/12/07 10:45am – I measured their space from sign to sign this morning and it is a reasonable 88ft.]

The real confusing thing here has nothing to do with valet parking — from the signs to my back is no parking as this is both a bus stop and the intersection with 13th Street (although part does not have through traffic) yet a parking meter is attached to the post (mostly hidden in this view). So the signs say no parking from the sign back yet a parking meter exists as though it would be OK.  [Update 1/12/07 10:45am – I missed this last night but saw it this morning and a commenter also pointed it out — some of the meters in this area are located at the back of the spaces rather than the front.  That is the case here — the meter is for the space where the BMW is parked above.]


This sign is the opposite end of the Lucas Park Grille valet zone. Again, they’ve got the full space in front of their restaurant for people to drop off and pick up their cars. The remainder of the spaces they had been taking, roughly 7-10 are now available for the general public.


Moving to the East we get to the 1100 block of Washington Ave where Copia has been taking the entire block for a year. I took this picture during the no-parking on street time of 4pm-6pm, another subject I will get to later in this post. I returned later after 6pm and the valet company had covered this meter with one of their no-parking covers and saying the space where I am standing to take this picture was also for valet. As you can see, the restaurant is up ahead and they have the zone up to the white car in the background. The sign is clearly pointing that direction but I didn’t bother arguing with him. There will be an education and adjustment period and I have faith in the new acting Director of Streets to do what it takes keep the streets in order.

[Update 1/12/07 @ 10:45am — I went down there this morning and did some measuring.  From the sign shown below at the east end of their zone to the sign shown above it is a huge 129ft — too long.  Plus they were thinking they got the space that the sign is attached to — that total length is 151ft.  In reality they should have one less space for a total of 106ft, still a reasonable length in my view. ] 


This image is the eastern end of the Copia valet zone. Again, they have a reasonable amount of space to conduct their business while everyone else has public parking to be shared. This small change will have a significant impact on the visual appearance of the street, including the perception of how happening the street is. No longer will we see big dead zones due to valets co-opting all the available spaces. Good common sense has prevailed.

I want to thank Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th Ward) for her many hours of working on this issue. I know it has been hours because she and I have literally spent hours talking and emailing over this subject for a good six months or more. Plus I gather she has had numerous conversations with valet company owners, other aldermen and so on. In the past I’ve said 8 years was plenty for an alderman, that after that many years they nothing else to give and it was time to move on. Well, I think I was wrong — despite the 9 years Ald. Krewson has been on the Board of Aldermen it is clear to me now Ald. Krewson has plenty of drive to tackle issues and can be open to suggestions and alternate views. Click here to send an email to Ald. Krewson thanking her for taking the time to pursue this issue.
Also deserving attention is the new acting Director of Streets, Todd Waeltermann. Having just started the job in December he has rolled up his sleeves and got down to work with Ald. Krewson on this issue. Like Krewson, he has gotten very involved and applied some very sensible common sense to the issue. I also hear the folks in the Slay administration were very supportive so thank you Room 200!

The other people that deserve credit are the many of you that sent emails and made phone calls regarding this issue. I have a big mouth but I think it took the efforts of more voices to get things rolling. Citizens standing up on an issue can be heard, persistence will eventually pay off. Of course the work is not complete. The city apparently had about 16 valet permits/areas so it will take some time for the zones to be established throughout the city to the other 14. The good thing is once that is done the companies that supposedly operate reguarly without a permit will become far more obvious. Short-term permits (1 or 2 days) will still be issued without any signs being installed.

So despite being quite pleased with the action taken today I want to point out a few issues that need to be looked at in the near future. The main one is the obnoxious 4pm-6pm no parking rule on Washington Ave from Tucker East. It really only applies to two blocks (1000 & 1100) because the remainder of the blocks to the river are no-parking 24/7. As I said a year ago, I think we should allow parking along Washington all the way to the river — with the possible exception of the spaces immediately in front of American’s Center. Those spaces, in front of the convention center, should be reserved for cabs.

The concern, of course, is how do we allow for workers to quickly flee the city at 5pm. By allowing parking on-street in the morning & evening rush it will take them a bit longer. Well, I say time the lights better along Washington so some is not having to stop at every signal. Also, encourage East-West traffic to use the much wider Cole Ave to the North of the convention center. We’ve literally invested millions of dollars in Washington Ave and visitors coming and going between the convention center and the hotel across the street currently get the impression the street is dead. All they can see from 8th street is an empty street with little to no activity. The only real activity they see are four lanes of traffic going by but not stopping.

Back in the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Washington Ave I am concerned the lack of on-street parking between 5pm and 6pm is negatively affecting the happy hour business at Kitchen K, Dubliner and even Copia. I’d like to see the city do a test of allowing on-street parking from at least 9th street to Tucker throughout the day at it is to the West. At the same time push back the start time for Copia’s valet to 5pm or 5:30pm from 6pm so they can capture that after work crowd. To make this work it would be good to perhaps put up some signs on Tucker and other places where traffic is originating to direct them to alternate routes such as Cole along with reworking the timing on the traffic lights. Tonight I go to bed feeling better about St. Louis. I leave you with a well known quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead


Valet Parking, An Update From Ald. Krewson

As a follow up to my post from earlier today, I received a phone call from Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th Ward).  Krewson, as I’ve noted in prior posts, has been dealing with valet parking issues in her ward primarily around the intersection of Euclid & Maryland.  I actually received an email from Krewson last night, before the post, asking me to call her (which I did this morning but she was already in sesssion at the Board of Alderman).  The point here is she was calling me to update me, not just reacting.  Much appreciated Ald. Krewson!!!

So what is the update?  Krewson and new Director of Streets Todd Waeltermann have talked, emailed and met in person to discuss the issue of valet parking.  They have been discussing the various issues such as length of valet area, cones or no cones, signage and such.  The goal, she says, is to develop a written policy within the Streets Department that will eventually be adopted as the city’s ordinance on valet parking.

While nothing is yet finalized it sounds to me like both Krewson and Waeltermann are in agreement as to the issues and solutions.  Here are a few of the areas discussed, but again no final language has been drafted at this point so don’t hold it as the gospel:

  • Valet company & business owner must sign an application form.
  • Valet zone to be created with signs indicating end points for the valet service.
  • Valet zone shall be no wider than the business seeking the application unless an immediately adjacent business also indicates their approval by signing the application.
  • Cones may be allowed “at the curb” to help identify the valet zone.

There were a number of other points but I don’t have all the details in writing, plus it is all a draft at this point.  I suggested that after the policy is enacted we actually live with it for 6-9 months before adopting it in ordinance form.  This would give us time to see if loopholes have been found or if other tweaks are required.
Ald. Krewson’s attention to detail and follow up on this issue have been impressive.  It helps that her constituents in the Central West End have been contacting her about their compliants of aggressive valets.  All in all I was very pleased with the solutions Ald. Krewson and Mr. Waeltermann have developed.  Once they have something ready for public commentary I will pass it along for everyone’s feedback.


New Valet Parking Permits Worse Than Old

Despite months of ongoing controversy over valet parking, including personal conversations with three aldermen, the City’s Department of Streets has issued new permits to Midwest Valet for at least two Washington Ave establishments that are less restrictive than earlier permits. Prior permits had similar language such as this from a permit issued on January 30, 2006 (see Flickr to view):


I guess the valet companies found that too restrictive on their businesses operating in the public right of way? Below are copies of permits I received today related to Lucas Park Grille and Copia, respectively.



The Lucas Park Grille permit seems to be valid seven days a week, whereas the Copia permit is not valid on Sunday (they are closed that day). As part of my request I inquired about the cost and formula for the permits. Here is the answer: $20/day up to $2,000. Given this casual formula I suppose it makes sense for the valet companies to seek as much real estate as possible — the price they pay is the same. Of note, the new Lucas Park Grille permit does not include any provisions for the 1300 block where they routinely have cones out. We’ll see if they have them out tonight trying to take those spaces.

[UPDATED: 1/5/07 @ 10am: Handwritten below the Copia permit was a note with time from 5:30pm to 1:30am with an OK by JWS.  Jim Suelmann is the recently retired Director of Streets.  See PDF.  The problem here is the last time I checked the street has no parking from 4pm to 6pm.  Are they allowed to start valet at 5:30pm because they have a permit even though parking in the next block must be left open until 6pm due to our “rush”?]
Again, the prior permits issued by the Department of Streets indicated no cones or other devices in the public right of way (which is street and public sidewalk, btw) but that restriction is now gone. Presumably they can virtuallly paint the street orange with cones and signs. Similarly, the language indicating cars must be moved/no vip parking is also gone. So for $2,000 you can own a street in the city of St. Louis.

We’ve gone from bad to worse on this issue.


Valet Parking on Washington Avenue in 6th Ward

My flight arrived a good hour late last night but despite being tired a group of friends were waiting for me at the Gelateria at Washington & 14th. So I stopped by downtown on the way home.  Where to park? Yes, Copia has the 1100 block nearly vacant. Lucas Park Grille has almost half of both sides of the 1200 block of Washington as well as several spaces on both sides of Washington in the 1300 block.

After circling the block and deciding I wasn’t going to pay $5 to park in the lot to the north of Washington Avenue for a 20 minute visit I moved a couple of illegally placed orange cones from the 1300 block of Washington Avenue. Looking around I could see that Lucas Park Grille’s valets had a good 10 spaces sitting empty at 9pm — plus the spaces in directly in front of the restaurant. I was already parked and on the sidewalk when the valet started running up to my car, “Don’t start with me” I said in a grumpy mood from traveling all day. He said something which I don’t recall exactly and I said, “Show me the permit, I’ll be in the gelato place.”

I returned about 30 minutes or so later to find a Saturn parked only inches from my rear bumper and another car in front equally close. They had purposefully blocked me in. OK, I was a smartass and perhaps deserving of such treatment? Fair enough. The valet comes over quickly when he sees me, with permit in hand. The other spaces, by the way, were still vacant.  He points to the address: 1301-19 Washington Ave. Indeed, they were given a permit to conduct valet parking at that location. However, they conveniently ignore the rest of the permit which indicates the area is only for the purpose of drop-off and pick-up — that cars must be moved to an off-site location immediately, and that cones or other items are prohibited in the public right of way. I should mention as a side note, in the 1100 & 1200 blocks they have begun using meter covers that indicate no parking, tow zone rather than the cones.

When I point out the conflicts on the permit the valet tells me he is simply doing what his boss tells him to do —- to keep all these spaces empty so if they get busy they can “stage” cars there. I’ve had others tell me the reason they want to take as many spaces as possible is it forces people to use the valet service so the valets can collect as many tips as they can. Of course, Lucas Park Grille is not the only establishment open in this area yet they certainly act like it. The reality is they simply take these spaces because the city’s street department willingly issues permits for seemingly as much space as the valet companies request.

The McGowan Brothers are the owners of Lucas Park Grille and have this to say on their development website:

We will continue to strive for the protection and safety of our streets and the development of adequate parking facilities for visitors and residents alike. McGowan Brothers Development Corp. will only recognize success when the Washington Avenue district is a thriving community where everyone who lives, works or visits can share in its rewards.

Their actions speak louder than their words. Their valet contractor, Midwest Valet, agressively takes away parking for visitors as the expense of the liveliness of the street. Having blocks of nearly vacant parking gives the appearance of nothing happening, not a good message to communicate to visitors be they from the county or from outside the region.

Contact information for the direct players involved in this caper, please contact them to share your thoughts:

My headline included the 6th ward. Yes, I intend to make this a campaign issue. I’ve personally discussed the valet issue with 6th Ward alderman and candidate for the President of the Board of Aldermen, Lewis Reed. I’ve had more conversations with Lyda Krewson of the 28th Ward, who indicates they are proceeding on an ordinance to be introduced this session. Still, my requests to revoke all permits except those directly in front of an establishment have been ignored. I’d like to see a 3-space limit until the Board of Alderman pass a more comprehensive ordinance.

For those that don’t know, this stretch of Washington Avenue is not represented by one person, not even two, but three aldermen. The 1100 block and East is in the 7th Ward represented by Phyllis Young. The 1200 block, where Lucas Park Grille is located, is in the 5th Ward where April Ford-Griffin is the alderman. The 1300 block plus all the blocks to the West past Jefferson are in the 6th Ward. [Note: yes Richard, I double checked the ward boundaries]

As alderman in the 6th Ward Lewis Reed has not introduced any legislation to address the issue relative to valet parking. As a candidate for the President of the Board of Alderman will he now take a stand? Will current President of the Board of Alderman take a position or continue to remain silent on the subject?

We have three candidates running for Reed’s seat in the 6th Ward, what are their positions on valet parking specifically and the rejuvenation of the western length of Washington Avenue in general. With 19th Ward Alderman Mike McMillan about to take the oath of office to become License Collector a significate portion of St. Louis’ downtown and mid-town will be in the hands of new legislators. Quite a bit is at stake and we certainly don’t need aldermen in these two wards that will play games that keep out good urban development. Neither are, to my knowledge, has a comprehensive plan.

One last note on the valet parking. They said last night that the police ticketed my car, yet I had no ticket. The valet indicated it will be mailed to me. I love the concept of a city that will ticket a citizen for parking in one of 10 or so empty spaces being held hostage by a single business while patronizing another business. You’d think someone like the St. Louis Downtown Partnership would step in to help manage the overall parking in in the downtown area. But, if you knew how the organization was managed you would not have such expectations. Let the Partnership CEO Jim Cloar know what you think of their hands-off approach to valet parking downtown.