Management firm changing ‘boots’ as Portland studies parking

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PORTLAND — A private parking lot management company whose practice of “booting” violators created a torrent of criticism and poor publicity last year will soon amend the policy.

“For paying customers, there will not be an immediate boot placed on the vehicle,” Asher Chappell, a manager and partner at Unified Parking Partners, said Tuesday. “Nonpaying customers will still be booted or towed.”

Chappell did not say when the change will take effect.

Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown, said Unified’s policy of immobilizing vehicles was a source of concern as the nonprofit organization that promotes downtown business and tourism studied peninsula parking.

“The new policy will certainly be a friendlier policy for those living and visiting Portland. I would say we are very happy with the change,” Gilbert said.

Unified Parking Partners has provided management services at privately owned lots and garages since 2013. Chappell estimated the company oversees about 6,000 spaces, 3,000 of which have used a “pay-and-display” model requiring customers to pay at a meter and display a receipt on their vehicle dashboard.

Vehicles with expired times or no receipts were subject to immobilization with a “Denver boot” until a company employee came and collected fees ranging from $40 to $80. The company has also twice modified its signs to indicate the lots are not owned by the city, and to more clearly display the potential penalties for violators.

Unified, while creating additional parking by making privately owned parking available to the public, has had a tumultuous existence. It has been criticized by city and state officials, as well as customers. And on May 15, co-owner Dan McNutt was arrested by city police on a charge of unlawful possession of scheduled drugs.

The company’s policy change comes as Portland Downtown seeks city help in determining how to maximize parking on the peninsula.

“What we truly need is the collective resources of the city to help us forge a path for best practices and strategic management of our public and private parking assets,” Gilbert said in a May 24 meeting of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee.

While asking councilors to start a marketing campaign to promote alternative ways to get into the city and to highlight existing parking options, Portland Downtown is also ready to spend as much as $40,000 to move the process forward.

Councilor David Brenerman, the committee chairman, said the committee will consider the recommendations at its June 28 meeting, along with input from city Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell.

Brenerman thanked Portland Downtown for its work and financial commitment and said the question is elemental.

“How do we get people not to fear coming downtown because they think there is no place to park?” he asked.

Gilbert said the nonprofit will chip in $15,000 for an ad and marketing campaign, and $25,000 “towards the implementation of strategies that will have a direct and positive impact on the parking and transportation landscape in Downtown.”

At the least, Gilbert asked the city to review and update master plans dating to 2008, 1992 and 1988 and determine how much parking is available.

“Portland Downtown cannot solve the parking and transportation alone, hopefully it will take a partnership with the city and Metro,” Gilbert said. Any marketing campaign would encourage use of public transportation, and Gilbert said the introduction of an app showing real time locations of Metro buses could encourage more ridership.

The same recommendations were made to Jennings in March, and city staff then completed a survey of available peninsula parking showing more than 11,200 parking spaces exist, with more then 7,300 in garages.

The city also has more than 1,600 metered street parking spaces, which are free to use before 9 a.m., after 6 p.m. and on Sundays and holidays.

Gilbert said she is grateful the Economic Development Committee is listening.

“The most important piece is, I am pleased that Portland Downtown is being seen as a resource for information.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A UPP manager said Tuesday customers with expired parking receipts will no longer have  boot immediately placed on their vehicles. Nonpaying customers will continue to get booted or towed.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.