LEAVENWORTH — When Seattle parking entrepreneur Gary Beck met with Leavenworth City Administrator Joel Walinski, he offered some colorful characterizations of the Bavarian Village’s options for car travelers.
“He called it kind of a rodeo,” Walinski recalled. “People were parking wherever they wanted to, whenever they wanted to.”
Beck, who’s visited Leavenworth as a tourist, recalls it this way: “When I was talking to Joel, I was telling him one of the reasons my wife and I don’t go there more often is because it’s a pain in the ass to find parking.”
Beck is the founder and president of Republic Parking, which operates more than 90 pay lots in Seattle and many more across Washington and in seven other states. From his perspective, Leavenworth’s city-owned parking was an unmanaged resource in a tourist town where 86 percent of visitors arrive by car.
No longer. In June the city acted on about two years of planning — including Beck’s consultations, provided gratis — and installed a state-of-the-art electronic pay station on its refurbished public lot next door to City Hall, right along Highway 2. The demolition of the long-disused Leavenworth Fruit Warehouse last year made way for more pay lots, where cash-only dropboxes require a $5 fee.
Add another dropbox at the downtown Festhalle, and that’s more than 240 new paid parking spaces, with all the revenue going to pay the $2.14 million debt Leavenworth assumed to buy the fruit warehouse property.
From its June activation through Labor Day, the electronic pay lot alone brought in an estimated $25,000 in parking fees — $1.50 per hour or $7.50 for a full day. Its 58 spaces could bring in $50,000 by year’s end, and the city hopes its parking program as a whole could yield up to $130,000 a year.
That’s not to mention the possible economic effects.
“We know that by providing more parking for our visitors, that will have an impact on how well stores do downtown,” Walinski said.
But what about locals? The city’s survey of residents on the parking issue found 59 percent of respondents wanted more spaces allocated for quick errands — picking up a prescription or takeout lunch, for example. In response, there are now 10 new 30-minute parking spaces throughout downtown, including four on busy Front Street and three on nearby Commercial Street.
“They wanted to be able to come downtown, access a parking space, and go away,” Walinski said.
Kevin Rieke, owner of The Hat Shop and The Wood Shop and president of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, said another issue is employee parking. The Leavenworth City Council has discussed whether to designate some public spaces for shop staff and restaurant workers in the 200 or so downtown businesses.
“There are shop owners that would pay to have a pass for employees to park someplace in the new public lots,” Rieke said.
“That’s really the toughest decision to make,” said Beck. “There’s a lot of employees who are working in those retail stores who aren’t making huge dollars, so you don’t want to penalize them and make them pay a ton of money to park … but you don’t want them parking where all of your cash-paying customers are.”
One step not under consideration is parking meters for the city’s 436 on-street spaces, Walinski said.
“If our revenues are correct and we can make the debt service, we have no need.”
The city’s debt service on the warehouse land amounts to about $185,000 a year for 20 years. The estimated $130,000 parking revenues and $50,000 in yearly rental of downtown lot space to Project Bayern for Oktoberfest should help cover that.
As for that 118,000 square feet created by the warehouse demolition, about a fourth of it is being built into new highway-fronting shop space by the Nelson Group, the developer that sold the property to the city.
There remain about 200 free public parking lot spaces in Leavenworth, including the lot next to the city pool and the Washington Department of Transportation lot that makes space available under an agreement with the city.
Beck revisited Leavenworth a few weeks ago, after many of his recommendations became reality. What a difference a parking lot makes.
“I was able to pull into where the old fruit building was and park in there,” he said. “It was nice. But you’re talking to a guy who doesn’t mind paying money for parking.”