2015-04-16 / Around Town

Valet Service May Hit Some Bumps

By Barry Bridges

In the week since Newport city councilors unanimously approved a permit for a downtown valet service, the plan may be facing headwinds.

A valet parking license was granted on April 8 for applicant Bonnie Sullivan, owner and CEO of AirVeil, LLC, which hopes to conduct business as Vicinity Valet. The supporting documents presented at the meeting describe a system during the summer months where cars will be left with attendants at both Market Square and the “jug handle” at the Red Parrot. Sullivan expects to park cars in lots at 130 Bellevue Ave. and at 278 West Main Road in Middletown, just over the city line.

But Attorney Turner Scott told Newport This Week that since the April 8 council meeting, it has come to light that the Red Parrot turnabout is actually state property, and that more Market Square proprietors are voicing concerns. “At this point, I’d be surprised if [Sullivan] goes forward with it,” he maintained.

At press time, Sullivan had not responded to several phone queries.

The application was viewed favorably by councilors. Two members of the audience, Russ Dulak, the owner of 348 Thames Street which houses the Red Parrot, and Martha Marie Grogan, the owner of Destination Chocolate on Bowen’s Wharf, were also in favor of a valet system but voiced logistics concerns. Countering their remarks, interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson said that the service would be closely monitored for potential problems. And Sullivan responded that her stations would be adequately staffed and timing would be geared to prevent such tie-ups, with her captain waving cars along or advising them to find alternate parking if they could not be quickly accommodated.

Nicholson also reassured councilors that the city will not incur a hit to parking revenues, as Sullivan agreed to pay $60 per day for three lost meters. Moreover, he agreed with Police Chief Gary Silva that no public safety issues were presented.

A third valet location at the corner of Franklin and Thames streets had been included in Sullivan’s package but was removed from the application on the morning of the council’s meeting. Scott, who represents neighbors opposed to the effort, said that she agreed to forfeit the Franklin pick-up after getting word of strong objections.

Nicholson also believes that new wrinkles may be emerging. “Ms. Sullivan may be looking at the Gateway Center in lieu of the ‘jug handle,’” he said. There may also be issues surrounding the specified parking arrangements.

But Nicholson is adamant that Sullivan’s basic concept is a good one that is in line with city policy as expressed through an ordinance encouraging valets.

“We fully support her efforts,” he said. “But it’s not the city’s business plan; we are the permitting authority. We have done what we’re supposed to do in issuing a permit and hope it comes together for her.”

Several years ago the city identified the need for valet parking downtown after a successful pilot program in 2008 spearheaded by the Newport Chamber of Commerce. An ordinance was later enacted that allows for licensed va- lets in non-residential zones, but so far such a business has not been established.

The fact that no company has parlayed that policy into a successful venture is one of the reasons that councilors were enthusiastic about Sullivan’s desire to help free up traffic congestion downtown. Last year, The Valet Connection, Inc. of Warwick submitted a proposal to ferry cars from the Red Parrot to a parking lot at St. Mary’s Church. But the idea was nixed by the Planning Board since the church sits in a residential zone.

“I just want to say, I think it was about four years ago that we approved this valet ordinance and it was requested by the business community,” said Councilor Naomi Neville on April 8. “And I’m pleased to see that this is the first legitimate proposal that we have to take advantage of.”

Councilor Justin McLaughlin echoed those sentiments. “We approved this ordinance a long time ago and we really need to see if it will work.”

Neville added, “We need to move forward and give this a try. We should give them enough time so that it can be done right before the season starts.”

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