CAROLINA BEACH — With an election a few days away and a changing-of-the guard soon to follow, the town councilmembers of Carolina Beach spoke with candor on the future of beach-town parking at a workshop meeting Tuesday morning.
Town leaders cut ties with their parking vendor this summer, citing confusion over signage and an overall lackluster experience for residents. Of the seven firms that have pitched themselves to be the next parking enforcers of Carolina Beach, the town chose Pivot Parking, which has also scored contracts at Wrightsville Beach and Surf City.
The qualms council expressed with the existing parking landscape include the exorbitant price of competing private lots — which can charge up to $45 per day and can be mistaken for public lots by beach-goers — and also the continuing encroachment of day-trippers who park in unregulated neighborhoods, blocks removed from the beach.
Early sales for Freeman Park access passes typically start in December, so movement on the switchover in parking companies should happen soon, Mayor LeAnn Pierce told staff during the meeting. Pierce, like councilmen Steve Shuttleworth and JoDan Garza, is not running for re-election. (Lynn Barbee, whose council term expires in two years, is running for mayor against Dan Wilcox).
With the backing of Pivot Parking, there would be gradual movement away from parking meters and toward electronic payment methods, like Text 2 Park and QR codes, used at Wrightsville Beach.
The Pivot proposal claims that “enhanced enforcement labor hours” and other company moves “could potentially generate in excess of $500,000 more than previous years’ gross revenue figures” for Carolina Beach.
The company proposed two compensation options. The first path is a base management fee of $1,850 per month, plus an incentive-based management fee (open to negotiation, but proposed to be 8.5% of net operating income after a certain threshold). There would also be reimbursed expenses, estimated to be $567,500 for a 12-month period.
“This model would be based on a calendar year Net Operating income and by structuring the agreement in this fashion, Pivot will earn incentives based on our ability to increase revenue while controlling expenses for the Town, creating a true partnership between Pivot Parking and the Town of Carolina Beach,” according to the proposal.
The second route involves an “all inclusive management fee” of nearly $600,000 per year, also with an incentive management fee.
“Pivot recommends increasing the enforcement hours to 33 hours per day during peak months which is estimated to cost $35,000 in additional labor which could generate approximately $100,000 in additional revenue,” according to the proposal.
Shuttleworth and Pierce said one of the more common complaints of this summer was from residents upset that their street right-of-ways were filled with parked cars. There’s a question of how to regulate the stretches of road a few streets back from the oceanfront, Shuttleworth said.
“Aesthetically and philosophically, we’re not sure our residents want to see parking meters and parking spaces in front of their private property all the way back through town on 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th Street,” he said. “Nor do they want to see no parking signs every 60 feet or whatever they’re required to be.”
Between March and October of this year, the Carolina Beach parking season, meters in the town collected $664,000 in revenue. The 21 parking lots netted $1.4 million.
A handful of those lots are not owned by the town; Carolina Beach instead makes lease payments to the private owner. For the majority of the public-private operations, the revenue is split evenly between both parties.
But across town, a cluster of properties that could potentially be developed down the road have also set up shop as temporary parking lots, and are not contracting with the town. These stations can charge unchecked rates, like $45 per day: “That’s dramatically higher than what the town charges,” Shuttleworth said.
Shuttleworth vouched for finding more creative inroads into public-private partnerships in the parking world. Through negotiations with the lot owners, he said, they could offer perks like partial payments in advance.
“Let’s get out of the box and think about some of those solutions, because Riverlights people are coming,” he told fellow board members Tuesday. “People from over the bridge are going to come, and they’re either going to park in front of your house, or you’re going to have to figure out a way to get them somewhere.”
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