Six months after Charlottesville’s City Council passed an ordinance allowing private valet parking companies to operate on public streets, a local company has begun parking cars from a kiosk on Water Street.
Lenoir Enterprises, a company that built its business providing parking service for weddings and private events, has several weeks under its belt, primarily serving patrons of the Melting Pot on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Diners there have complimentary access to the service, but the business has seen a steady stream of drivers heading to other establishments, said Lenoir Enterprises owner Brandon Black.
“On a typical night right now, at one location, it’s typically three to four cars a night, it just depends on the busyness of the night,” Black said. “We are parking more and more cars every weekend, so we think it will continue to grow.”
Black is working to secure permits to serve at least one more downtown restaurant, and hopes to expand his availability to seven nights a week at the Melting Pot.
The service is an elegant solution to a potentially expensive problem, said Derek Bond, owner of the Melting Pot.
“Parking is our No. 1 obstacle to doing business, because right now our guests are having to use the garage and walk, and it is inconvenient,” Bond said. “As a community, we do not have adequate parking downtown, so we had to think outside the box.”
Issues finding parking downtown on busy weekends are an opportunity for companies like Lenoir Enterprises, said Chris Engel, the city’s director of economic development.
“When downtowns get to a certain mass of activity, these kinds of businesses will start to pop up,” he said. “We will see how well it takes off here in the next few months.”
While Bond’s restaurant picks up the tab for its patrons, parkers heading elsewhere pay $3.50 an hour for Black’s service, with a four-hour time cap.
Bond said he would like to see the partnership be a long-term arrangement.
“It is working well. It is probably just a matter of informing our guests better about it,” he said. “It is convenient for them to be able to pull up and leave their cars and have them dropped back off after a nice dinner.”
Getting the business up and running took a lot of work, Engel said, because the permitting process was the first of its kind.
“Our primary effort was in getting the ordinance signed,” Engel said. “But there was a permitting process and since this was the first permit of its kind, there was some back and forth.”
Tim Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, applauded Black’s efforts, but said a valet service is not a permanent fix.
“We have said for years that more public parking needs to be provided,” Hulbert said. “Management of it, private or otherwise, is a secondary concern.”
The city ordinance allows companies like Black’s to apply for permits to occupy curbside parking spaces for car drop-off and pick-up. The city ordinance requires that valet businesses hold a separate permit for each place they operate and pay a $500 fee per permit.
State law prohibits businesses or individuals from blocking public parking spaces without permission from the locality. Both Norfolk and Richmond have ordinances similar to Charlottesville’s, according to those cities’ websites.