Partnership backs Colonial to find Dover parking solutions

DOVER — Although most of the small businesses that reside on or near the downtown Dover corridor of Loockerman Street are temporarily closed because of Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency due to COVID-19, a solution is actively being sought to address parking issues in the area.

A Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP) working group trying to find that solution has identified a vendor — Wilmington-based Colonial Parking — that it plans to recommend “creating a Memorandum of Understanding with” to the DDP board of directors at its meeting at 7:30 this morning.

Todd Stonesifer, chairman of the DDP’s Parking Committee, said Colonial Parking’s submission of proposed solutions easily stood out from a total of five companies that showed an interest in partnering with the DDP. Colonial, ParkMobile and Passport were the final three companies considered.

Mr. Stonesifer, DDP Executive Director Diane Laird and Dover City Planner Dave Hugg all agreed that Colonial Parking was the best bet as ParkMobile and Passport were both software-only solutions, which they would provide for a subscription fee and staff at the DDP would have to manage.

“Colonial came to us with a complete package, meaning essentially they would install at their expense some hardware solutions in the form of meters and then they would use their staff to manage enforcement and manage those meters, collection out of those meters, and then they would use a software package, in addition to the hardware package, that would help for those of us who have smartphone technology, etc.,” Mr. Stonesifer said.

“Colonial just rose to the top and was head and shoulders above the other two solutions. From the perspective of if we were to opt to use one of the other two solutions, I believe that it would be such a toll on the current staff that we would have to create a position to manage just the parking solution.”

Mr. Hugg said Colonial’s decision to “take a risk” on downtown Dover showed its commitment to the city.

“I’ve been impressed with them,” he said. “The earliest discussions that I’ve had with them on (parking) garages and everything else, they approached it from a pretty global view, which I thought was pretty impressive, and I like the fact that they’re pretty much going to take the lead – they’re the risk. I don’t know what more we can ask.”

Mr. Stonesifer said by taking a risk, Colonial is willing to invest in hardware and software if it eventually reaches a contract with the DDP and the city of Dover.

“They are going to spend the money on the meters, and they are going to have their staff manage everything from a third-party perspective,” said Mr. Stonesifer. “I’m not looking at this as an income producer, although it is going to be a revenue generator for us (business owners). I am looking at it as a solution to our parking challenges.”

Much of Colonial Parking’s plan for downtown Dover remains confidential; however, a couple of facts were unveiled following questions by Dover City Councilman Fred Neil during the parking committee’s virtual meeting on Tuesday.

The company is reportedly looking to charge 25 cents per 15 minutes of on-street parking in front of businesses, while, based on overall parking time, it will be a little less expensive to park in the lots, which customers will be allowed to park all day long. There will also be a permit solution in which downtown business owners and employees can pay a monthly subscription fee and can park in any of the city’s lots if they have a permit.

Parking issues are nothing new to downtown Dover. They seem to have been around since the automobile.

There have been numerous studies done over the years regarding possibly building a parking garage and others trying to find solutions to make parking downtown easier to customers and visitors.

However, with a new building expected to arise soon on Loockerman Plaza from Lighthouse Construction, Mr. Stonesifer believes the issue could quickly get worse.

“Our parking challenges stem from the fact that when and if we have some economic development down here, our challenges are going to become something that we can’t handle,” he said. “I believe they’re going to come as soon as Lighthouse Construction decides to build (their building on Loockerman Street), because they are going to take away some of the parking spaces that we currently have use of and they’re going to create a larger demand on the parking that we already have.”

Colonial Parking appears to offer the balance of technology and other options that the DDP is looking for.

The parking committee said the more it can use available technology such as smartphones the better, as it will lead to more efficiency for retailers, tenants and customers. In a March meeting, the committee noted the city is working with lighting companies to inventory current street lighting and is budgeting now for all LED lighting, as well as 4 and 5G technology, which may help to drive down the costs.

However, it also said that it needs to ensure options for seniors and visitors who do not have a smartphone account established.

“Colonial has a longstanding tradition of running efficiently and how to address the needs that are happening, that are coming, and so I think we’ll have much greater efficiency with someone who does this 24/7,” Ms. Laird said. “They know what prices to charge. They can help us with marketing it appropriately and changing it if something is not working. Their references were outstanding.”

Mr. Hugg said the details can wait. For Tuesday, the main goal was to identify a recommendation to send to the DDP’s Board of Directors, which it did with a unanimous vote of Colonial Parking. Ultimately, the plan will have to be approved by members of Dover City Council.

Mr. Stonesifer said he is just looking for something that will work for all businesses downtown.

“The idea is to create turnover for the merchants so that their customers can get to them, and that’s ultimately what I see happening with this,” he said.

Perhaps it also doesn’t hurt that the company’s name — Colonial Parking — appears to fit right in with downtown Dover’s heritage.