Shoppers, don’t believe those $5 parking signs downtown.
For years, customers have been told they can’t park for free in the free parking lots downtown during Thursday afternoon matinees at Proctors. The large signs make no mention of an exemption for those who are not going to the theater, and retailers say some of their customers have gone elsewhere rather than pay to park.
It turns out they could have parked for free after all — but no one told them.
Parking officials quickly announced the rules Friday after retailers complained about charges during Thursday’s matinee.
Customers did not want to seek out parking along the streets, many blocks from their destination, “especially when it’s 9 degrees out,” said Richard Mare, who owns Downtown Designs and was one of several retailers who complained.
“I’ve had people say they didn’t feel they should pay $5 to shop on Jay Street,” he said. “There are plenty of places they could go for free.”
On Thursday, one of his customers circled the downtown and eventually parked four blocks away rather than pay for parking.
“She was the only real serious customer I had all day. She was picking up a birthday present,” Mare said, “and they wanted $5 just for her to run in and pick something up.”
The free parking lots become paid lots occasionally for Proctors customers attending a Thursday matinee. But the parking lot attendants are supposed to ask each driver whether they’re going to the matinee. Those who say they’re just stopping for lunch or a shopping trip are allowed to park for free.
The Metroplex Development Authority owns the lots and usually offers two-hour free parking to all comers on weekdays to support downtown businesses. The lots are also free at night and on weekends.
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen defended the decision to charge Proctors customers for parking but said he didn’t intend for other customers to get caught up in the situation.
“Our parking folks have been instructed on those days to ask people if they are here for shopping or for the show,” he said. “If it’s shopping, they get two hours free. We do ask.”
With 2,600 theatergoers arriving at the same time, there’s no guarantee there will be spaces left for shoppers, but neither group has priority, he said. And it doesn’t happen very often.
“It’s six times a year,” he said.
Proctors also offers matinees on weekends, but the outer parking lots are free then. That’s because there’s plenty of room since office workers are home, Gillen said.
During all shows, the parking lot behind Proctors charges $10 and the one by the Broadway parking garage charges $5. The garage itself is always free at night and on weekends, and during the day to those going to Movieland or Proctors.
Gillen said the number of theatergoers downtown for the matinees is worth the potential discouragement of some customers who see the $5 parking sign and don’t drive in to find out they can park for free.
“The benefit is you’re getting 2,600 people downtown,” he said, suggesting some of them may walk into a downtown shop after the show.
But Mare said Metroplex shouldn’t add special charges for anyone, even theatergoers. “I don’t really see why they should be making money from it,” he said of the matinees. “I think they make enough on daily parking fees.”
He noted that business owners pay a monthly fee to park, and many workers also buy passes. Some visitors stay for more than two hours and end up paying, as well.
Gillen said Metroplex needs the money to maintain the lots.
“We use it to generate income to offset our expenses to keep the lots clean, lit, cameraed,” he said. “It’s just six times a year that we’re asking for that.”