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Port Jefferson Business Improvement District

Representatives from Qwik Ride, Port Jefferson Village and the Port Jefferson BID announce the kick off of Qwik Ride in the village during a press event Nov. 5. Photo by Alex Petroski

Business owners and elected officials in Port Jefferson Village are confident they’ve finally found the antidote to the business district’s most talked about problem.

In an effort to open up parking for more visitors, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District has partnered with Qwik Ride, a company that uses 100 percent electric vehicles summoned by a mobile phone application to alleviate parking constraints in downtown areas.

“We have tried a lot of different things,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “I think it’s fun, it’s mobile, it’s free — it solves all of our issues. It can help an employee park out of the village and open up a spot. It can bring a resident downtown and keep that spot open for somebody else. And I think they’re innovative and they’re flexible, and I think when you have a dynamic problem you need a dynamic solution.”

The service is offered free of charge to riders thanks to a sponsorship contract between the BID and Qwik Ride. One of the two cars allotted to Port Jeff Village is sponsored by the BID as a whole, while the second is sponsored by Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president individually.

“Parking is widely perceived as the major contributing factor to the demise of foot traffic in this village and the ultimate failure of so many businesses, so having an option to try to get around the parking problem by having people picked up and not having to bring their cars down into the village is an obvious benefit,” Schafer said. “They look fun to ride in too, so hopefully it’ll spur people on. The fact that it’s no charge, I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a huge success.”

The contracts are for 20 months, with services being available beginning this Saturday, Nov. 10 from noon to midnight. Initially the cars will be running Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight and 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Qwik Ride owner Dan Cantelmo said the company hopes to eventually have up to five cars sponsored in Port Jeff and service available seven days a week, though expansion will be based on demand.

Once operational, the service will pick up Port Jefferson residents in the 11777, and those traveling to the area from outside of the village are instructed to park in the CVS parking lot on Main Street near Earl L. Vandermeulen High School to summon the cars from there for transport downtown. The company has rolled out cars in Patchogue, Northport and Huntington villages earlier this year with great success, according to Cantelmo.

“All have a similar concept — trying to ease the parking and encourage people to park further away so that we can bring them into the town,” he said.

While the service is only planned to operate Thursday through Sunday in PJV at first, special events like the Charles Dickens Festival and popular nights out like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be covered as well.

The cars will be kept in the parking lot behind Village Hall when not in service, but the village has no other stake in the agreement, other than offering its support, according to Garant. During the summers of 2017 and 2018, the BID partnered with a valet parking company to offer a municipal parking service, an agreement that required village permission to use certain parking lots, though failed to garner enough usage to remain viable.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate. “ I think it’s going to mean more customers for us.”

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

With the conclusion of a trial valet parking program in Port Jefferson Village, which along the way included input from members of the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, village government, the Port Jefferson Fire Department, residents, the Port Jefferson School District and restaurant owners, a resonating theme has emerged: It was a good idea that needs work if it will be brought back in 2018.

Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and PJBID president, said in a phone interview the program fell short of reaching its break-even point for  PJBID’s initial investment with the valet company. He said about 150 people used the service on average each weekend at a rate of $7 per car. When the program began Schafer said if the service drew 100 users nightly it would be a profitable venture.

“It was some sort of step towards a solution,” he said. “The upside of it is everyone who used it thought it was the best thing ever. We got praise for trying an idea like this. Hopefully next year we can go back to the table with a better plan.”

John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a big project,” he said in a phone interview. “It was a lot of people working on it and any time you have any sort of new projects or new activities … nobody has the foresight to get it totally right the first time.”

He added the plan will be to look at ways to streamline the service in the lead up to the summer of 2018 with an eye toward improvement — not disbanding the program.

The route valets took to park cars during the summer of 2017. Image by TBR News Media

Restaurant owners who were involved in the planning of the program this past summer and others who were not said they were glad valet parking was tried as a fix to an age-old problem in Port Jeff. The service began in July after a group of business owners announced their intentions to pursue the program to the village board once PJBID reached an agreement with the private valet company and the Port Jeff school district, which allowed cars to be parked in the vacant high school lot during the summer. It concluded after Labor Day weekend.

Logistical issues occurred along the way, including complaints from residents about the route drivers would take upon exiting the municipal lot off Maple Place behind Ruvo East restaurant where customers were staged before their cars were taken to the high school; a lack of signage at the entrance of the lot off Maple Place which historically had been a two-way entrance and was repurposed as a one-way, exit only during the program’s hours of operation; traffic on the street, which is also the site of the fire department; not enough promotion of the program to make visitors aware of it; and a disruption of the regular uses of the lot behind Ruvo East, among others.

Sound Beach resident Arthur Rasmussen was critical of the program in an August letter to the editor after he was instructed to use the valet service to visit Ruvo East when he complained the staging area was blocking handicapped parking for the restaurant.

“We were so incensed by this ‘shakedown’ that we called the restaurant and cancelled our reservation and drove to a restaurant in Mount Sinai,” he said. “My wife is on a walker and that particular handicapped spot gives her easier access to the restaurant. I thought that the valet parking program was voluntary and not designed to cause hardship on handicapped seniors.”

Initially the village was not going to be involved in the operation of the program, but because the staging area is a village lot its approval was required. Restaurant owners and director of operations of The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Barbara Ransome said the program would likely benefit with more village input.

“I would like to see it continue, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “They have to have better [public relations], better advertising and for God’s sake more signage. There aren’t many options out there. I think this is one that could work, it’s just got to be looked at.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant and deputy mayor and trustee, Larry LaPointe, could not be reached for comment regarding the village’s involvement with the project going forward.

The program was set up to be cost neutral for the village. Had revenue exceeded the initial investment, 25 percent of profits would have gone to the valet company and the remaining 75 percent would have been split between the school district and village.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Thanks to the start of a pilot program this past weekend, one of the most difficult aspects of life in Port Jefferson Village was a little easier. Finding parking has long been a complaint of visitors to Port Jeff, especially during the summer months. In an effort to address the problem, a joint venture valet parking service spearheaded by the Business Improvement District, the village and the Port Jefferson School District kicked off July 14.

According to Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president, 12 drivers utilized the service on July 14, 51 on July 15 and 12 on July 16, during the first weekend of its availability. He added the service operated without incident during the three-day span.

The route valets will take to park cars at once the system is implemented. Image by TBR News Media

“Overall it went well,” Schafer said in a phone interview. “Every time something new happens you expect an adjustment period.”

Port Jeff Deputy Mayor and Trustee Larry LaPointe, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the parking committee, said during a public board meeting July 17 he received correspondence from the Port Jefferson Fire Department with concerns about a lack of signage.

The entrance to the municipal lot across from the fire department on Maple Place was supposed to operate as a “one-way” street during the hours of operation of the service, with cars only being allowed to exit the lot via Maple. A “Do not Enter” sign was also expected to be at the Maple Place entrance to the lot but was not there, according to LaPointe. A phone message requesting comment left at the fire department was not returned.

Schafer said the problem will be discussed during a scheduled meeting of all of the interested parties, which took place during the afternoon July 19.

Michael Cherry, a Mount Sinai resident, was the first customer of the service just after 4 p.m. July 14.

“Anywhere that has a lot of people you’re going to have that issue [of not being able to always find a convenient parking spot],” he said, though he added he frequently visits the village to patronize the restaurants, and parking has never deterred him from coming. “We were going to come down here no matter what so it doesn’t even matter.”

LaPointe said he hoped in coming weeks employees at the restaurants would push the service to customers while taking reservations to try and boost usage numbers.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village. This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”

— Roger Rutherford

The service is functioning pursuant to a contract between the BID and the school district. The lot on Maple Place across the street from the fire department is used as a staging area. Cars are dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service costs drivers $7. The program is available during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays noon to 11 p.m.

Valets take cars from the lot behind Ruvo restaurant and bar, take a left on Maple Place, a right on Main Street, a right to cross over Barnum Avenue and a left into the high school lot. To return cars to the staging area for pick up, valets exit at the opposite end of the lot onto Old Post Road then take a left on Main Street and a left onto Wynn Lane to re-enter the municipal lot. Valet drivers do not use Barnum Avenue, Tuthill Street or Spring Street, three residential roads, which were discussed as possible routes during the June board meeting, according to Garant. Excess traffic on residential streets received strong pushback from members of the community.

The program is cost neutral for the village, and should revenue exceed the initial investment by Advanced Parking Services, the valet company in agreement with the BID, 25 percent of profits would go to the company and the remaining 75 percent would be split between the school district and village.

Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate, was present for the kick off of the service July 14.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village,” he said. “This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”

Finding a parking spot in Port Jefferson is often difficult, but a valet parking service could change things. File photo

By Alex Petroski

Despite concerns raised by members of the community, a valet parking system backed by restaurant and other business owners as well as elected officials in Port Jefferson Village is slated to begin this coming weekend.

The plan has progressed thanks to the efforts of the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District and Pro Port Jefferson Association, a group assembled to act in the interest of restaurant owners in the village. During a contentious public village board meeting in early June, members of the community spoke out against and in favor of the plan after Tommy Schafer, owner of Schafer’s and Tommy’s Place, and John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, and others revealed the plan to the public.

At the time the village board had not been involved in the planning or implementation of the service, but because the designated staging area for car drop off is on village property, they had to approve the plan, which they had since the June meeting. The plan will proceed as a pilot with the possibility of cancellation at any time at the discretion of the village, according to Mayor Margot Garant.

The route valets will take to park cars at once the system is implemented. Image by TBR News Media

The service will function pursuant to a contract between the BID and the Port Jefferson School District. The municipal parking lot on Maple Avenue across the street from the fire department will be used as a staging area. Cars will be dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service will cost drivers $7. The pilot program will take place during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays from noon to 11 p.m.

Valets will take cars from the lot behind Ruvo restaurant and bar, take a left on Maple Place, a right on Main Street, a right to cross over Barnum Avenue and a left into the high school lot. To return cars to the staging area for pick up, valets will exit at the opposite end of the lot onto Old Post Road then take a left on Main Street and a left onto Wynn Lane to re-enter the municipal lot. Valet drivers will not use Barnum Avenue, Tuthill Street or Spring Street, three residential roads which were discussed as possible routes during the June meeting, according to Garant.

Marge McCuen, a longtime village resident, spoke out against the proposed plan during the meeting because she didn’t want excess traffic on Tuthill Street, where she and her husband John live, during the night hours. She called the service an “invasion” of a residential area for the purpose of making money, a disturbance of quiet streets, and also objected to a lack of public hearings or advanced notice for residents.

“The whole thing is, they don’t seem to care about the people,” she said in a phone interview.

Schafer and Urbinati each expressed excitement for the possibilities at their respective restaurants now that customers will presumably have an easier time parking.

“I think it’s a great joint venture that the businesses and the village itself have been able to come together and make this project work,” Urbinati said in a phone interview.

Garant said resident concerns from the June meeting were taken into account in mapping out a pick up and drop off route, and the board aimed to have as little additional traffic on residential streets as possible.

The program is cost neutral for the village, and should revenue exceed the initial investment by Advanced Parking Services, the valet company in agreement with the BID, 25 percent of profits would go to the company and the remaining 75 percent would be split between the school district and village.

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