Proctor Safeway backs away from charging for some parking

Tacoma’s Proctor Business District Safeway store, which earlier this week had posted paid parking signs on its overflow parking lot, was taking those signs down Friday afternoon after The News Tribune inquired about the new policy.

“We’re reconsidering what we want to do in that lot,” said Safeway spokeswoman Sara Osborne Friday afternoon.

“We’ll probably just ask Diamond (Parking, the commercial parking company) to monitor that lot usage so that we ensure that those spots are available for our customers,” she said

The grocery posted the 45-car lot north of North 25th Street with paid parking signs and installed a parking payment kiosk early this week to discourage long-term parkers from filling the lot. The store was charging $1 an hour for parking.

The store said its main parking lot fills up on busy shopping days, and its customers were finding spots in the overflow lot already occupied by others who weren’t shopping at the store.

When the parking fee was still in place Friday morning Safeway said it would reimburse its own customers for their parking fees and donate the proceeds from the parking fees to a district beautification project.

But the store rethought its decision at midafternoon and decided to end the paid parking experiment.

Osbourne said that in other urban situations where parking is at a premium, the grocery chain has not resorted to paid parking, but rather implemented a vigorous monitoring program to weed out non-customers.

The imposition of paid parking on the lot had caught district businesses by surprise.

Gail Caldwell, Proctor Business District Association president, said the only notification the business district received of the change in the lot use arrangements came when Safeway posted signs around the lot and installed a payment kiosk on the north side of the lot.

Caldwell said parking for employees who work in the district’s stores, professional offices and government institutions has been an issue particularly since a lot on the north side of the district was posted for customers-only eliminating employee parking there. In addition to two supermarkets (Safeway and Metropolitan Market), the district businesses and institutions include two schools, a library, a movie theater, several restaurants, a bowling alley and numerous retailers and shops.

The lot functioned in many cases as a free parking lot for district business customers and employees, but the supermarket said that on busy days it found its own customers had no place to park because both its 75-car main lot in front of the store was full and the overflow lot was jammed with non-customers. Both lots now will continue to be free.

Caldwell said the parking situation in the district has been exacerbated in recent months because of construction workers building the six-story Proctor Station apartment and retail complex at the north end of the shopping district have occupied some parking formerly used by employees and customers.

Bill Evans, a longtime Proctor merchant and former Tacoma City Council member, said, however, that construction workers have been bused in to the project from remote parking lots. Evans is involved in the Proctor Station project.

The good news for the district, said Evans, owner of the Pacific Northwest Shop, is that within two or three weeks construction workers will beginning using the project’s own parking structure for their vehicles. When the mixed-use project is finished next fall, the project will create a total of 34 new street parking spots along Proctor and two adjacent streets. Residents of the apartments will have parking spots in the building’s garage.

At midmorning Friday, about 10 cars were parked in the paid overflow lot. A parking attendant was posting violation notices on cars whose drivers had not paid the new parking fee.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663