WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — At Tuesday’s Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen meeting, a parking deal between the town and Wrightsville Methodist Church was ratified.
Once offered as free parking to beachgoers pre-Covid-19, two gravel lots across from the church, consisting of 66 spaces, are now paid lots through the town’s Pivot Parking program.
Since Port City Daily reported on it Tuesday, details of the deal have stirred controversy over its origin and revenue evaluations.
According to United Methodist’s Pastor Doug Lain, “the estimations are nowhere near a half-a-million.”
PCD reported the number as “potential revenue” based on every parking space filled every day during the season’s eight-month implementation. Town Manager Tim Owens was not able to provide a revenue estimate to Port City Daily upon inquiry earlier in the week.
According to figures presented by Pivot Parking, Mayor Pro Tem Hank Miller and the church’s senior pastor said the deal could bring in $100,000, split $50,000 each between the two entities.
Pivot Parking started enforcing the lots on June 24. They follow the same regulations as all other Wrightsville Beach parking — $5 an hour, or $25 a day, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Enforcement will take place March 1 through Oct. 31; however, public parking will not be available before noon on Sundays, when the church holds services, nor during scheduled events, such as funerals, weddings, classes, meetings and other large gatherings.
Church attendees will not be required to pay to park at those events.
Pastor Lain said the $50,000 was used as a “selling point” in the deal. Both he and Miller said Pivot Parking reached the estimate by analyzing the past performance of the island’s parking spots. The company took an average revenue for one space, then applied the math to the lots’ 66 spaces.
Port City Daily reached out to the town for last fiscal year’s parking revenue figures, as well as documentation on Pivot Parking’s estimations. Neither could be provided.
In Wrightsville Beach’s 2021-2022 fiscal year, the town projected it would receive $4.3 million from parking meters and citations. Divided by the island’s 1800 public spots, each space is worth $2,388 annually.
However, not each parking space sees the same amount of traffic. Pivot Parking and the church expect the lot to be used less frequently because not many people know it’s an option, the pastor and mayor pro tem said. It’s half a mile away from the beach, located a block from Banks Channel bridge at 4 Live Oak Drive.
“[Pivot Parking] discounted their estimation because you have to wonder how many people are actually going to park there, although I think it’s pretty darn convenient,” Miller said.
If all the parking spaces filled up, the 66 spaces could potentially generate a maximum revenue around $696,960 each season, leaving $348,480 for each the town and church. That number is based on the maximum $5 per hour-rate calculated at 66 available hours a week for eight months. The projection assumes each space is occupied every hour, every day, and does not include any potential closings for church events or take into account some people would pay the flat rate at $25 an hour.
How the deal came to be was addressed at Tuesday night’s aldermen meeting.
“The church never approached us about parking,” Miller said in the meeting. “I approached the church around a year ago. Mr. Owens may not have known that’s what I had done.”
Town manager Owens originally told Port City Daily United Methodist approached the town with the idea; Lain also said that wasn’t true.
(Port City Daily reached out to the church ahead of press on Tuesday but didn’t receive response.)
On Wednesday, Miller confirmed to Port City Daily the opportunity presented itself after observing the parking situation in the Town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
“They were going to have to have a public-private partnership because they don’t have enough on-street parking services,” Miller said. “I came back here and said ‘where can we do that?’ Well, the churches.”
He then approached fellow aldermen members, who suggested he reach out to United Methodist.
“The whole idea was to do something that was beneficial to the public, beneficial to the church and could be beneficial for the town,” Miller said. “If you find something that touches all those bases, I don’t know how you could be against it.”
Lain explained the church agreed to the deal to help the town while capitalizing on a financial opportunity to support the community.
The church shut down the lots in March 2020, in conjunction with the beach closing due to the pandemic. Lain said there were too many problems associated with free parking to open them up again.
“There were people that were taking advantage of the lot,” Lain said. “People were messing up the lots. It was becoming very expensive to replace all the gravel, and trash was accumulating.”
Lain said the church has yet to decide how to best use the revenue it will receive and whether it would go toward charitable purposes, church operations or both.
“I don’t make those decisions unilaterally,” Lain said. “The church exists for the community. People come here for worship and pastoral care because of particular needs they have. But, also, we love to give it away too.”
In 2016, the town allowed United Methodist and three other local churches to solicit parking for donations on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day weekends. Lain said his church used the money to fund youth mission trips. The parking money could be used in a similar way. Lain added the expansion of vacation bible school was a potential option.
“There are a lot of dreams,” he said. “A lot of people have some really beautiful ideas.”
According to IRS, any revenue brought in from the operation would be tax-free. The guidance states:
“If the church enters into a lease with a third party who operates the church’s parking lot and pays rent to the church, these payments would not be subject to tax, as they would constitute rent from real property.”
It is unclear how the church or Pivot Parking will enforce the new system, particularly on busy Sundays when United Methodist leaves the lots open for churchgoers. Lain explained church staff will put up signs indicating when the lots are closed but does not have someone monitoring the parking lot.
Pivot Parking did not respond to requests for comment by press.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com