A Good Idea Poorly Conceived

RIOC's New Low in Cluelessness: Merchant Parking Validation Program

Updated 2 years ago David Stone
Artwork at the Motorgate Gallery... Will cheap parking attract shoppers, diners and theatre goers to Main Street?
Artwork at the Motorgate Gallery... Will cheap parking attract shoppers, diners and theatre goers to Main Street?

"It’s about to get a little easier for Roosevelt Island visitors with cars to patronage Main Street’s shops, restaurants, delis and theatre," reads RIOC's February 2nd press release. Okay, so they probably meant "patronize," not "patronage" - Hint: patronage isn't a verb - but otherwise, it was right on the money. But the real news is how dazzlingly ill-conceived this gem is.

“Our goal is to help our businesses attract more customers,” Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation President/CEO Susan Rosenthal is quoted in the release. “Offering free parking for patrons, who usually pay more than $20 for the same time, is a good idea.”

Good enough so far, but the generosity runs out fast.

RIOC's new "... pilot Motorgate merchant validation program" will be paid for by the already beleaguered "shops, restaurants, delis and theatre," not the well-heeled State agency that collects rent from them.

"For $150 a night, businesses can purchase parking coupons for up to 30 customer cars that spend money at their establishments. The validation allows customers up to five hours of no-charge parking," said RIOC.

Let's look at that more closely...

Our lineup of restaurants strung out along Main Street is far and away the most likely to generate enough traffic to routinely benefit from this program. Of those, only Nisi and Riverwalk Bar & Grill have the capacity to come near drawing 30 people, the optimum number for the best benefit, who would not otherwise come to sample their foods and drinks unless they got free parking in Motorgate.

If they'd come anyway, it's a waste of resources, benefiting only RIOC and its partner in Motorgate as it generates revenue for an excess inventory of parking places.

Research tells us the average net profit for restaurants is around 3%, but for this comparison, we can use a more aggressive number some experts say is possible, i.e., 7%. It's something of a fantasy here, but let's be generous and give RIOC every benefit.

In order to break even, restaurants like Nisi and Riverwalk need to sell $2,142.86, averaging $71.00 per vehicle in Motorgate, just to break even. And that's only if they are able to get the full 30 cars they've paid for. Should they get just 25, that number jumps to over $85.00 per vehicle.

If it snows or President Trump decides to launch a nuclear war, that day, and only half the hoped for drivers come in over the bridge...

And you don't even want to think about the toll on Nisi if their margin is closer to the industry average... or less.

Another possible beneficiary of the program is Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, where the lineup of increasingly popular shows can sometimes fill the house at the Howe Theatre. But let's be serious. The Howe is a 100 seat black box. 30% of audience members would have to arrive alone by car and not otherwise attend for it to make sense.

A more likely possibility is for visitors to take the free parking as a perk. Another is that diners, shoppers and audience members will be encouraged to drive to Roosevelt Island, rather than take mass transit, exacerbating the kind of congestion City and State are laboring to ease.

RIOC does offer an alternative, but it's juicy only for them: "Those businesses who’d like to offer validation every weekday and weekends for a month, will pay $500."

In case you're wondering how RIOC came up with this plan, you'll have to wait. To say it came out of the blue puts it mildly. And it appears that folks who might be interested were sometimes not consulted. It's possible none of them or just a few were.

"Wow!" said one when told first about the program by us. "I'm going to have to take a look at this. Had not heard about it."

If RIOC really wanted to help, don't you think they'd have asked, maybe done a little more research? 

After decades of neglect, including a mind-boggling inability to even provide signs to help visitors find merchants, wouldn't you expect something better?

From where we sit, it seems that RIOC ought to have shouldered the full cost, not charged top dollar to Main Street's neglected businesses. That is, if their genuine intent was to help.

As it stands, merchant parking validation program is sort of like doing a regift and expecting the recipient to pay for it. 

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