Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Downtown Sundown moves to 2nd Street parking lot despite city staff objections

The Downtown Sundown series is moving to the 2nd Street Parking Lot (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
The Downtown Sundown series is moving to the 2nd Street Parking Lot (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington’s City Council has agreed to let Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI) lease the Second Street parking lot for their annual Downtown Sundown concert series despite the fact city staff and residents who utilize the parking lot opposed the move — it’s also a costly decision that could see the city lose around $13,000

With the closing of Riverfront Park, WDI needed a new location to host its weekly concert series and decided upon the Second Street Parking Lot.

But not everyone was supportive of the change.

For 15 consecutive weeks, the concert series will close a portion of the parking lot on Friday mornings with a complete closure by Friday evening. As compensation for the space, WDI has offered to pay a fee of $450 per week for its use — but according to City Manager Sterling Cheatham, that is only a fraction of what the city could make in parking revenue.

“Over the past two summers, the Second Street Parking Lot has averaged $1,355 in daily transient revenue on Fridays which, over the course of 15 weeks, would result in the loss of approximately $20,000 (2% of annual gross revenue). After reimbursement for use of the lot (as proposed by WDI), the net projected loss of revenue in this enterprise fund associated with granting the request would be approximately $13,250,” Cheatham said in his request to City Council.

The parking lot is also home to 137 monthly parkers who will have to find a new place to park on Fridays.

Cheatham also said that while the city has been known to rent out the space for events like the Azalea Festival, the request is excessive when compared to other uses.

“The duration of the events associated with this request far exceeds by 12-14 days the one to three day-per-year interruptions in service associated with the Azalea Festival events that have been held in this lot for the past several years,” Cheatham said.

President of WDI Ed Wolverton spoke to City Council Tuesday and argued his case for permission to use the lot. The series started in 2005 as a way to attract customers to downtown businesses, he said and while he looked at several different sites, none of them proved adequate.

“As I mentioned we looked at over 30 sites and we wanted to meet those goals of spurring customer traffic to downtown businesses and that activity and we came down to narrowing it the corner of Market and Second Streets, we felt that this offered the best location,” Wolverton said.

Despite these arguments, the loss of revenue and the inconvenience to drivers who have monthly contracts with the parking lot proved enough for city staff to recommend the denial of the application.

“Based upon the above factors, staff does not support this request. Staff remains fully supportive of the downtown concert series and recognizes the importance of the event as a WDI fundraiser. We have worked with WDI to identify alternate locations including Innes Park, Grace Street between 2nd and 3rd, and the Band Shell, but none of the alternatives have proved satisfactory,” Cheatham wrote.

Because of the potential impact of the concert series, the city conducted a survey among monthly parking permit holders for the lot and the majority of them were not in favor of the request.

“Given the length of time and number of events that are encompassed in this request, staff conducted a survey of contracted monthly parkers to determine their viewpoint. Of the 85 parkers that took the survey, 74 percent of them stated they would not be in support of having more special events on the lot if it meant occasionally relocating to a different facility,” Cheatham wrote.

It wasn’t just staff and residents that opposed the request, the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee was presented with the request in February and voted unanimously not to support the requested use.

City Council responds

Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes noted that while staff and residents might not support the concert series in the parking lot, neighboring businesses were overwhelmingly supportive of continuing the series.

Her one concern was the change of time until 10 p.m.

Councilman Paul Lawler said he had heard from a business owner that leases several spots in the parking lot and had concerns for employees possibly forgetting the lot would be closing and risk being towed.

Wolverton said WDI would work with the city’s parking provider to ensure there are adequate signs posted to help prevent any towing of cars parked there.

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