Government

Cedar Rapids parking revenue takes 'big hit' from pandemic

31 staffers laid off as fewer people park downtown

Parking meters in downtown Cedar Rapids are labeled with zone and space numbers for online payments. Revenue from downto
Parking meters in downtown Cedar Rapids are labeled with zone and space numbers for online payments. Revenue from downtown parking is just about half of what it was in 2019, as events were canceled and people started working from home because of the pandemic. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — Park Cedar Rapids, the company managing the city’s paid parking downtown, has laid off many of its employees to cope with a sharp drop in revenue because the pandemic has paused large events and forced many downtown employees to work from home.

Park Cedar Rapids now has 14 full-time and two part-time staffers working, down from 47 staffers in 2019, manager Jon Rouse said.

Overall, the company reports nearly $2 million in revenue from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, or about 55 percent of the $3.62 million it took in during the same time period in 2019.

That figure includes revenue from daily metered parking, event parking, citations, bag rentals and monthly permits. Nearly 42 percent of the revenue loss has come from monthly permits, typically bought by downtown workers. .

“We took a big hit in nearly every single category,” Rouse said.

The company has an approximately $1.3 million reserve fund to tap if needed, though Rouse said the company is breaking even for now.

He said Park Cedar Rapids can reactivate some part-time staff for events, like it did for the girls state volleyball tournament in early November, Rouse said.

That level of employment, he said, likely will continue until downtown activity returns to a more normal level.

“If we just don’t have the customers, honestly we really didn’t have the need to continue staffing at certain levels,” Rouse said.

Ramp use plunges

The parking ramps’ occupancy rates are at historic lows, Rouse said.

The five parking ramps’ average occupancy rate, based on peak occupancy, fell to 31 percent, down from 86 percent in October 2019. That calculation includes the Five Seasons ramp, where the occupancy rate is zero while it is closed for repairs.

One positive Rouse noted is that 44 percent of customers are paying for parking using the Park Cedar Rapids’ phone app — up 15 percent from the previous year — as more people seek contact-free transactions. He said this also saves time filling kiosks with receipt paper and taking money from the meters.

2021 outlook

In 2021, Rouse said, “we’re just going to have to continue to manage expenses” such as paying employees or making other purchases.

“I think that we will be back,” Rouse said, eyeing 2022 as the year he hopes activity will return to normal levels. “I think that it’s just going to take time.”

Rouse said parking companies across the country are taking a hit as the country sees another surge in COVID-19 cases. Some companies are not renewing leases, he said, though others intend to return and maintain office space.

An Ernst & Young study released in September said paid parking operations generate $131 billion in direct revenue and employ 580,000 people. The study, commissioned by the National Parking Association, is based on pre-pandemic activity.

Playing defense

City Council member Scott Overland, who chairs the council’s Finance and Administrative Services Committee, said it’s a positive that Park Cedar Rapids is using the slowdown in usage to work on capital improvements.

Overland said he expects usage to trend upward once there is a COVID-19 vaccine available and widely distributed to the public in 2021.

He also anticipates a significant pent-up demand for events and activities like eating inside restaurants and browsing stores. As people are again able to visit downtown destinations, the parking spaces will fill up, too, he said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“If people feel that they’re safe, it’ll fix itself basically,” Overland said. “Until that time, it still behooves us to be on defense.”

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.