New Albany, MS– The New Albany Board of Aldermen has authorized a six-month experiment in valet parking, three nights each week, in downtown New Albany. The board took the action at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
Restaurateur Frank Vainisi proposed a plan to make valet parking available in downtown New Albany from 5 to 10 p.m. each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Vainisi asked that he be allowed to block off two parking spaces directly in front of Bankhead Bicycle Club (BBC), his cafe at 108 West Bankhead St., so he could provide a valet parking service for motorists who come to downtown New Albany for supper on those nights.
Vainisi said the valet parking service would actually be operated by Vernon Price, who runs a licensed taxi service here. Vainisi said motorists would leave their cars with Price in front of BBC and Price would take those cars to be parked on city parking lots and return the cars to motorists at the same place.
The board and the city attorney discussed the need for Price to have insurance to cover the risks involved in running a valet parking service. Vainisi told the board, “They’re covered, as far as I’m aware.”
In response to a question from NAnewsweb.com, Vainisi said the valet parking service would be available to motorists who came downtown to eat at other restaurants.
Alderman Will Tucker asked whether giving Vainisi permission to run a valet parking service in front of his restaurant might bring about a “domino effect” of other restaurants wanting to operate a valet parking service from city streets.
After a discussion of about 12 minutes, the three aldermen present all voted to give approval to Vainisi’s valet parking plan for a trial period of six months. First Ward Alderman Jeff Olson and Third Ward Alderman Kevin Dale White were not present at the meeting.
On-going parking issues in downtown New Albany
The city board’s temporary approval of a valet parking plan is another episode in a long-running series of concerns about parking in downtown New Albany.
Although its legality and safety are open questions, New Albany has a tradition of allowing motorists to park in the center of Bankhead Street. It is not unusual to observe 6 to 10 motor vehicles parked in the middle of Bankhead, wheels astride the double-yellow line marking the center of the roadway, while 30 or more regular parking spaces are vacant in that downtown block between Tanglefoot Plaza and the river.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) disapproves parking in the middle of Bankhead St, and that street is a state highway from city limits to city limits Some say parking in the middle of the street is an outright violation of state law. However, New Albany officials have long declined to enforce any prohibition of parking in the middle of that street.
The increasing number of people resident in upstairs apartments downtown, the growth of Tanglefoot Trail utilization, and the success of restaurants located downtown have brought additional attention to downtown parking problems in recent years.
There have been ongoing disagreements about people parking in the public alleyway that runs between Bankhead and Main Streets. Some business owners facing onto Bankhead have posted signs claiming substantial parts of the ally as loading zones. Some business owners have, in the past, asserted that they should have exclusive right to park their personal vehicles in the alley.
There is a prohibition against parking for more than two hours anywhere on downtown streets. However, enforcement of the two-hour ban has been problematic.
An incident about one month ago underscored the conflicts that have arisen as downtown New Albany has flourished, attracting more people and their automobiles.
A couple, who live in one of the second-floor apartments downtown were going out of town for the weekend. Thursday afternoon, Nov. 17th, they parked one of their automobiles in front of Bankhead Bicycle Club. Monday morning, as they were trying to go to work, they discovered that the Nissan sedan they had parked in front of BBC was no longer there. They learned that the car had been towed away Friday afternoon by Union Wrecker Service. At Union Wrecker they were told their car had been towed from the public parking space at the instructions of the owners of Bankhead Bicycle Club. The tow bill was $175.00, but Union Wrecker discounted it to $125 and released the Nissan to its owners.
BBC owner Frank Vainisi was asked by NAnewsweb.com if he had, in fact, had the car towed from the public street. Vainisi answered, “I did.” Asked if had anything further to say about the matter, Vainisi said, “No.”
Union Wrecker owner Don Evans told NAnewsweb.com that his people had believed, at the time Vainisi called them, that towing the vehicle from in front of BBC had been authorized by local police.
New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson said his department had not authorized the wrecker company to remove the Nissan from the public parking space in front of BBC. Robertson said he received a cell phone text from Tracy (Mrs. Frank) Vainisi before the car was actually towed in which he was told of the Vainisi’s intent to have the car removed from the parking spot. Robertson said he replied that the New Albany Police Department was not authorizing that the car be towed, but said he told Mrs. Vainisi she might take it upon herself to call Union Wrecker. “Perhaps I should have made myself more clear, said it differently,” said the police chief.
Valet parking trial is off to a slow start
The valet parking operation in front of Vainisi’s Bankhead Bicycle Club started the weekend after it was authorized by the Board of Aldermen.-.
The temperature stood at 32 degrees. Vernon and Brenda Price were wrapped up warmly and on the job at the valet parking spot in front of BBC Friday evening, Dec. 9th. They were charging six dollars per vehicle for valet parking. When NAnewsweb.com talked to them there about 6:30 p.m. that evening, Vernon Price said they had had one paying customer since starting at 5 p.m. and that another motorist, “Drove by and handed us a few dollars to encourage us.”
We went inside BBC immediately after talking to the Prices. There were eight customers.
We went to Tanglefoot Grill next door, and there were two customers.
Next we walked over to Deco, the new bar and restaurant on Railroad St. There were 16 customers at Deco and four more coming in the door when we went out.
Then over to Ciao Chow at the southeast corner of Bankhead and Railroad. There were customers at all tables (about 60) and eight others diners were waiting for a table.
Finally, we walked over to Tallahatchie Gourmet on Main Street, arriving about 6:45 p.m. TG had 47 customers seated and two more arrived as we left.
Vernon and Brenda Price were again at their work station in front of BBC when we talked to them early Friday evening, December 15th. They said they’d had two customers by 7 o’clock. Saturday night, Dec. 16th, the Prices had not yet done any valet parking business when we checked with them at 7:30 p.m.
The prosperity of downtown New Albany is clearly a good thing, and, as business grows, the demand for parking is likely to grow as well.
In the mean time, if you see Santa making his rounds Saturday night, Dec. 24th, caution him against parking that damned sleigh and those prancing reindeer on Bankhead Street!
Editor’s Note: The prosperity of downtown New Albany is likely to continue and grow — if we do not mess up and kill the goose that lays the Golden Eggs. Failure to deal with the downtown parking problems could be the ax that kills the bird. Policies about parking need to be developed intelligently, stated clearly and enforced consistently.
Video and partial transcript of Board of Aldermen meeting
TV99NewAlbany videos all of the public sessions of the New Albany Board of Aldermen, and makes them available on MaxxSouth Channel 99 and on its website, tv99newalbany.com at no charge. You can watch the entire Dec. 6th New Albany city board meeting at:
Following is a partial transcript of the portion of the board’s Dec. 6th meeting that dealt with the valet parking proposal. What we’ve transcribed here starts at 1:04 of the TV99 video and ends at. 6:49. If you watch the TV99 video, the portion about valet parking starts at 1:04 and ends at 13:36. The video of the entire meeting is about 41 minutes long.
Mayor Tim Kent (TK): Next on the agenda is a personal appearance by Frank Vainisi. Frank, you can come up front if you want to:
Frank Vainisi (FV): Sorry for my disarray. I just ran in. I wasn’t expecting to come and see you guys. Jeff had told me he was going to explain to you what we were trying to do. I’m just here to answer any questions anybody might have. Is everyone aware of our general focus, what we’re trying to do? I want to be able to block off two spots in front of my property there right across the street in order to, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings or to offer a valet service run by an independent company, so customers can pull into the downtown, pull into those two spots there have their, have their car parked by our people or their people and just kind of alleviate a little bit of the pressure as far as the downtown parking especially on the weekends you know so as is be looking you know to block those two spaces off with a sign or something so between 5 and 10 pm Thursday, Friday, Saturday we have access to those spots so that we can offer this service. That’s pretty much it so I can answer any other questions I think that you might have.
Alderman Johnny Anderson (JA): Between 5 and 10?
FV: Between 5 and 10 Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It’s just the heavy flow for our business hours things like that.
TK: Do you know where they will take the cars to park them?
FV: Well, yow, I would imagine to other public parking spaces. We’ll make sure that they don’t park on Bankhead where everyone else is trying to park. You know that’s the whole idea, to get people to come in, drop ’em off — preferably in front of my building — and they can go and walk to wherever they want to go but they have that service there available to them, we take their car out, whatever, the transportation service also has a taxi you know with them so that’s also something for somebody who is downtown to have the taxi service. There’s a little bit of a base right there for to be able to also have that kind of access. Just makes it a little bit easier for everybody to kind of flow in and out.
TK: So it would help alleviate some of the parking problems we have?
FV: Yeah, even if we could take, we’re giving up two spots but if we could take 10 to 12 cars a night out of there, you know that’s 8 to 10 more customers we’ll be able to bring into the downtown, obviously bring more money in, help everybody out.
JA: Is the company that you’re using, are they already in business, is that the taxi company…?
FV: Yes. It’s the taxi company here in town. I kind of have a verbal agreement with them. Those are the people that will be taking care of the cars and everything. Separate company. Like I said I’m just here before you to be sure we have the spots secured, and there.
Alderman Will Tucker (WT): I got a couple of concerns. I don’t know with it being a state road, I don’t know that we can close the road, close it down with respect to I don’t know if we have the right to do that.
FV: Okay, well, then, I guess we can possibly look into it but I don’t think it’s different than if customers just came in and out. And, uh, if we could have you know like for instance right now it’s two hour parking and if we mediate those can we not mediate unload parking, a loading zone, right there in those two spots.
WT: And the other thing would be who’s going, I mean would you be enforcing that or would you want us to police it as far a blocking them off, I mean…
FV: We, you know, I mean I’m there all day every day, you know at 4:45 I could put a cone out there when it’s empty, it’s you know, you tell me, I mean , I want to work with you. I want you to work with me. Whatever’s going to be easiest for everybody involved. It’s just, like I said, it’s just those three days, we put a sign out that says, you know, “loading zone” Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, or I’m sorry, whatever, Thursday, Friday, Saturday from this time to this time those two spots, and then, you know, we can take care of it from there.
City Attorney Reagan Russell (RR): I think we have control of our sparking spots as long as they’re not blocking the actual main road, so they’re not blocking traffic there. I wonder if two spots is enough for them to get in and out without blocking the traffic.
FV: Uh. What I was. I wouldn’t want them to come in and parallel park. Let ’em come in and you know, angle in. We have two spots where they can angle in so we have one. They could pull into the middle of the two spots, be enough room for a car and passengers to unload and load, and you know, safely back out just as any other vehicle backing out would to go on their way. They go park the car, they come back.
RR: The only other concern I have is the personal liability involved with whoever’s doing the driving. I just want to make sure it’s clear that this is not, that we’re not the ones hiring them nor are we sponsoring them in any way.
RR: We’re just saying that you can use those two spaces for the purpose and it would be with you all to take care of that.
FV: I mean, you know the transportation company has their own set of insurance and liability and things of like that nature so it’s…
TK: They’re a taxi service here so they had to have insurance to get…
FV: Right. So far as I’m aware they’re pretty well set to go ahead and do. They can transport cars. They’re covered, as far as I’m aware. I don’t imagine they’d be running around right now…
Alderman Scott Dunnam (SD): You okay with coming up with a sign or whatever it’s going to take?
FV: Yeah. Whatever you tell me you want me to do I’ll make sure, you know, take care of it.