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Valet Wrecks Car of Local Radio Personality

November 13, 2006 Downtown, Valet Parking 7 Comments

It seems a valet company working at a restaurant downtown managed to wreck the car of K-Hits morning show personality Jennifer Sparks. Sparks described the incident on air this morning, indicating she usually does not valet but was in a hurry. She indicated neither the valet nor the restaurant were apologetic.

It is my belief that if the valet companies were not taking away entire city blocks of parking people like Sparks could simply park their own car and walk a short distance to their destination, even if they are in a hurry. Essentially, these companies are forcing their patrons to use valet parking and taking away public space that should be available to patrons of other businesses that chose not to strong arm their customers into using the valet.

Sparks did not name any names but I do know of one downtown restaurant where the owner isn’t the most friendly. Several aldermen have confirmed they are cooperating on legislation to bring the valets under some sort of uniform guidelines. I just called Ald. Lyda Krewson who indicated they are making progress on the research and hope to schedule a meeting to solicit feedback. I’ll keep you posted. I wish Jen Sparks the best of luck getting the valet company’s insurance to cover the damage done to her car.


Valet Video: Cones & Sign in Bike Lane

The valets were out in full force tonight: Central West End, Midtown, Washington Avenue, Downtown, Lafayette Square. In the CWE they had cones running around the new fountain on Maryland Plaza — some event or new venue in the courtyard space behind Design Within Reach (the new rooftop place?). Cones also blocked off various empty spaces on both sides of the street. Also across the street and to the east were more cones and a sign at Bar Italia. And a few doors east of there cones blocked spaces for Sub Zero on Euclid. I didn’t stop.

I did, however, stop at Dante’s on Olive just west of Compton. Here the valet company was taking numerous spaces but the real offense was the placement of their valet sign and cones within the bike lane. Cyclists, especially those doing so at night have many things to worry about (such as drunk drivers) they don’t need to have an obstacle course placed in their path.

Here is short video (under a minute):

I actually talked to the very courteous and professional valets as well as a patron of the bar that said he was a buddy of the owner. The valets, as I said, were professional. The owner’s buddy couldn’t believe I cared about this issue and was razzing me but in the end we actually had a series of conversations that were very pleasant. He was really funny too, great sense of humor. While I was there I noticed many people arriving, most on foot (presumably not wanting to pay $5 to park when they could just walk a block). The crowd was really diverse in age and appearance which made me think this might be a cool place to hang out some evening.

Just a block east on the south side of Olive ‘The Loft’ also had a sign in the middle of the bike lane. All the usual suspects downtown had cones out although many on Washington Ave no longer had them on the street. Over on Locust Ten14 had cones everywhere around 11:15pm. They had a long line to get in the door, not sure if folks who valet get preference for entrance or if you valet then wait in line. The new place downtown, Dolce, had cones on two blocks of Broadway and adjacent to the new Marquette lofts.

Aldermen are now looking into this issue and hopefully will come up with a workable ordinance in the next month or so.


Copia’s Valet vs. St. Louis Fire Department

Sometimes I have really good timing. Tonight was one of those times. However, I didn’t have my camera with me to capture the event. It just so happened I was walking back to my car (at 14th & Washington) after having dinner at 10th Street Italian (between Washington & St. Charles). Anyway, I was walking along cursing myself for not having my camera with me. I pass by Copia and see two cars running, lights on and not a person in sight. No valet, no customer. Just a Lexus and Saab running. I keep walking, debating if my camera phone is worthwhile but I decide to let it go. As I get to the corner at Tucker I look back and see a Fire Department SUV has pulled up in front of Copia. After crossing the Tucker I see it has it’s lights on.

Curious and heading to City Grocers anyway, I drove past Copia to see if I could figure out the problem. First, a bit of background. In the last couple of weeks, since my popular video has been out, Copia’s valets have been parking cars on the street rather than leaving all the space empty. It is a start. While I’d prefer to have most of the spaces open for the public I’d rather see them park cars there than leave the space looking desolate. But it looks as though they parked one vehicle where they should not — directly in a no-parking zone in front of a fire hydrant, directly in front of the restaurant. I was able to go around the block and come back on Washington as the valet finally got the keys for the vehicle (an SUV of course) as he moved it from the spot. For a good 5-10 minutes Copia had a fire vehicle in front of their place with the lights flashing, I’m sure the patrons were wondering what was going on. Just another day with Copia and valet parking….


Valet Video: New & Improved — Now Confrontation-Free!

My post from Tuesday evening with video of the owner of Copia received much attention and a fair amount of both praise and criticism. Curious if anything had changed I returned to Washington Avenue Thursday night with camera in hand. This time I did a couple of things differently — I did not talk to anyone, staying completely away from the valets and the restaurants themselves (Copia in the 11xx block and Lucas Park Grille in the 12xx block). The video is far less exciting than the confrontation on Tuesday evening but it is telling about the extent of the situation.

Every non-coned public parking space between 10th and 14th was taken last night when I was there after 9pm. The only empty spaces in this four block stretch were spaces coned off by a single valet company, Midwest Valet, while employed by Copia and Lucas Park.

The video and sound quality are a bit poor as my still camera’s video feature doesn’t do too well when moving at night. But, you’ll be able to get the idea. The first video is in the 11xx block of Washington Ave. I start at Tucker and walk toward 11th. I’m on the north side of the street looking over at the block containing Copia (it is the beautiful 2-story building with the 3 arched windows). Once the valet sees me he begins to make a few calls and eventually moves the cones from the street. Remember, the police were there just two nights ago and told them to move the cones.

The 11xx block of Washington Ave has a total of 10 marked parking spaces. Four are in front of Baseline which is to the east of Copia. The SUV parked in the far east end of the block is actually in a yellow no-parking zone. Moving to the west of the four spaces in front of Baseline we have a fire hydrant and then a single parking space directly in front of Copia. We then have another no-parking area for a buildings’ fire standpipe. Five additional spaces are on the western half of the block. The valets should be able to operate by taking the single space in front of the restaurant combined with the two non-parking spaces. I will return to measure this width to see what that would give them but it is greater than 60ft. This would leave 9 public spaces for patrons of Copia or other establishments (or friends of residents). Copia is in the 7th Ward.

In the next video I am in the 12xx block of Washington Ave where Lucas Park Grille is just as abusive by taking two sides of the street. We start off with a valet that just made a u-turn in the street to park a car across from the restaurant in a public space they had coned off. It should be noted, the Director of Streets Jim Suelmann has issued LPG a permit to have all these spaces but indicates they are only for the drop off and pickup of cars — that all cars should be moved to sites elsewhere. Clearly, that is not what is happening here. A couple of clubs are open and active in this block and several places are open late in the next block to the west. However, the only vacant spots are those coned off by the valet company for the use by LPG and the sushi place next door.

The point of all this is we do have things going on downtown and along Washington Ave but a few businesses are being overly aggressive in their use of the public street and public parking. We need balance. Lucas Park Grille is in the 5th Ward.

Currently nobody is taking any responsibility for the problem. The valets say they are doing their job. The restaurant owners say they (via the valet company) have a permit for this much space, the Treasurer’s office (which is responsible for parking revenues) has no policy, the aldermen won’t act on a complaint unless from a constituent, the Director of Streets says he doesn’t have the ability to enforce the permits he issues and in reality the police have much more important things to worry about. But the reality is we paid dearly for these streetscapes and much is riding on their long-term success. The demand for the spaces is there but they are reserved for a select few.


Confrontation with Copia Over Valet Parking – with Video!

Valet Parking At CopiaNo point beating around the bush, tonight I had a verbal altercation with the owner/manager of Copia Urban Winery & Market located at 1122 Washington Ave. Luckily, my video camera was rolling.

Before we get to the video, let me set the scene. First, I’ve been writing about Copia and others since the beginning of this year — how they consume way too much public parking for their valet service. I wrote the following of Copia in February (see post):

Copia Urban Winery at 1122 Washington Avenue is consuming entirely too much of the 1100 block with their valet parking. How much is too much?

Try 288 feet! (I carry a measuring wheel in my car for such purposes.)

Copia, located about the mid-point of the block, is 75 feet wide (per tax records). So they are taking away 213 feet of parking from adjacent buildings. A little greedy don’t you think?

Now I’m not going to tell any high-end restaurant they can’t have valet parking. That is a necessary function to please their clientele. However a number of their own customers could park on the same street if they didn’t block it off with their orange cones.

I looked through St. Louis’ ordinances online and didn’t turn up any laws regulating valet parking. The City of Clayton, however, has a reasonably defined law (no direct link, search for ‘valet’). They require a license and the city determines the amount of space the valet is allowed to occupy.

St. Louis needs to address the valet parking situation or we risk stagnating the very area we are trying to enliven. You don’t need nearly 300 feet of road to provide adequate valet parking service for a restaurant the size of Copia.

After that post I began making requests of the valets to see their permits, which they did in fact have (see post). For a while Copia placed their valet cones in the street during the evening rush when parking was not permitted on the street (see post). I began making requests to the city, using Missouri’s Sunshine Law, to obtain copies of these permits. From this I learned the city went ahead and issued Copia a permit for basically the entire side of Washington Avenue from 11th to Tucker (12th). The city, it seems, didn’t care they were consuming nearly 300ft of the public street and just somehow that might be a tad too much. Also, never mind that Copia’s physical location is only 75ft wide — sufficient to operate a valet service according to many other cities.

But one of the key things about the permit was some of the phrasing:

All vehicles must be moved to a different location immediately. No cones, traffic control devices nor temporary structures shall be placed in the public right of way at any time. Permit must be on site at all times… …This permit is issued at the discretion of the Director of Streets and may be revoked at any time at his discretion.

I’ve done a number of other posts on valet parking and you can do a search and find those. Most recently I did a post detailing how other cities are addressing this issue. And finally tonight, before heading downtown to help a friend I was at a fundraiser for Ald. Lyda Krewson (as an observer, not a contributor). I had a good conversation with her and Ald. Lewis Reed about the problems with valet parking. Reed’s ward includes Lucas Park Grille in the next block. Copia, on the other hand, is in the 5th ward of April Ford-Griffin. [CORRECTION 10/4/06 10:20am: Reed’s Ward includes the 1300 block of Washington Avenue where the Lucas Park Grille folks take up part of that block on both sides for valet parking. April Ford-Griffin is the alderman in the 5th Ward which has the 1200 block of Washington where Lucas Park Grille is located and consumes both sides of the street routinely. The 1100 block of Washington is in the 7th Ward where Phyllis Young is alderman. 3 blocks, 3 aldermen.] The event was held at Joe Edward’s very fun Pin-Up Bowl in the loop and I took a moment to bend his ear about how he’d need to start working on the valet issue early (btw, he said issues are getting ironed out on the Flamingo Bowl and construction will proceed soon).

Ok, so I drive by Lucas Park Grille and Copia and they both have tons of spaces coned off despite being a slow Tuesday evening. The street literally looks lifeless. After helping my friend I come back to Copia and park my car in front of a building adjacent to Copia in an area where they have a number of cones — you’ll see my gray car in the video. I proceed to remove the cones from the street which catches the attention of the valet guy. We talk and I decide to call the police to enforce the no cones section of the permit.

While I am waiting on the police to arrive the valet guy alerts the restaurant owner (Manager?) who comes out to “chat.” We have a pretty heated exchange, both using some strong language. My camera stops after 3 minute but I got the bulk of it. Finally the officer arrived who was quite nice. I offered my card and explained why I called — as well as apologize for taking his valuable time but that is what the Director of Streets, Jim Suelmann, directed me to do. I also indicated that 4th District Police Captain Filla was aware of the problems of valets and had discussed them recently with residents. The owner then talked with the officer for a bit and soon the owner instructed the valet to remove the remaining cones from the street.

At one point I said, “you don’t know who I am?” It sounds a bit like an ego trip but it was clear he was thinking I was just some guy with a video camera and not the author of popular blog. I was thinking to myself, if this guy knew who I was he probably wouldn’t be saying the things he was saying. I’m used to the politicians being careful what they say or at least telling me something is off the record and waiting until I put the camera away. His candor totally took me by surprise.

Ok, hit play:

Get your protest signs ready…

UPDATE: 10/3/06 @ 11:55pm:

I have emailed a link for this post to the following: Jim Suelmann, Director of Streets; Ald. April Ford-Griffin, Ald. Lewis Reed, Ald. Phyllis Young, Ald. Mike McMillan; Ald. Lyda Krewson; and Downtown Partnership Director Jim Cloar. I did not contact Copia but the owner has my card. If you’d like to contact Copia click here.

UPDATE: 10/4/06 @ 12:45am:

Video guru Antonio French of PubDef.net did an excellent remix of the video. Watch his hip version here.