.Downtown Parking Promo Has Promise

Businesses want Oakland to keep Five After Five going—and to get the word out

If we make it affordable, will they come? Oakland set out to answer that question by reducing parking fees at a downtown parking garage.

In October, the city announced “Five After Five” at the Franklin Plaza parking garage, aiming to lure people to local businesses and boost nightlife with the promise of safe, secure and cheap parking. It extended the garage’s hours, reduced parking costs to $5 after 5pm and all day on Saturdays and Sundays, and beefed up security.

After nearly eight months, the program’s official future remains in flux. Initially set to run through the holiday season, the program has instead been renewed every few weeks. The city says it’s seen more usage of the garage and reports that, based on cell phone data, visits to downtown Oakland are up 32% since last year. No agency provided more detailed garage data. The city budget released in May proposed decreasing revenue by $250,000 and allocating $250,000 toward staffing and maintenance to continue supporting the Five After Five pilot program for at least another year.

Paul Canales, the owner and chef behind the Spanish-inspired restaurant Duende at 468 19th St., loves the program, primarily for its extended hours. Previously he said the Franklin Plaza garage closed so early that it was “really kind of a non-entity … In that sense just having it open, period, is big.”

Canales sometimes promotes the program on the restaurant’s Facebook page, as well as on his personal Instagram. Yet his knowledge of the program and its continuation has come largely through other businesses.

“The city doesn’t communicate anything,” he said. “I just hear from Tony.”

That would be Tony Leong, general manager of the Fox Theater. Leong’s been a key figure in helping launch and evolve the program, as the Fox is one of the key draws to the city’s nightlife.

“We know on any given night we can bring 3,000 people into downtown Oakland,” Leong said. “Having secure parking is one of the foundational efforts we can do as a city to bring people into the area and help all the businesses.”

Canales has experienced this firsthand. When people attend shows, they also go to dinner. He appreciates that people can dine at Duende and then head over to the Fox without having to re-park.

Rick da Silva with the City of Oakland Parking Partners, which operates the garage, says he is in close contact with Tony, the Fox Theater and other nightlife organizations to gather feedback like this. 

“This is a pilot,” he said, “so we’re really trying to look at the data and work closely with the community stakeholders.”

Since the program rolled out, Oakland Parking Partners has added more lighting to the garage—illuminating a notoriously dark Franklin Street entrance—as well as more personnel. At any given time during operating hours, two to three security guards now work on site, one per floor when no one is on a break. Ambassadors at the entrance offer assistance with payment. Security cameras cover the garage and surrounding areas. The city has continued the extended nighttime hours as well as morning ones, opening up at 8am on Sunday mornings at the request of nearby churches and restaurants.

Cory Hunt, the owner of First Edition at 1915 Broadway, said he appreciates the program, which has helped both customers and employees avoid car break-ins. 

“My only complaint is that they don’t list the updated hours on Google, and it hasn’t been heavily advertised in the neighborhood,” he said via email. “I think it gets underutilized because people aren’t aware that it’s open.”

The City of Oakland responded via email, “We haven’t needed to advertise the garage to businesses because they created the plan and have helped define the iterated cost structure.”

Leong tries to get the word out by recommending the program and the garage on the Fox Theater’s website and social media. But he thinks the low awareness is partly a product of the pilot’s impermanent nature. “It’s hard to tell people one thing if they take it away,” he said. “It should be a normal thing.”

That’s the hope, too, for Canales, for whom the program has been a “game-changer.”

“The businesses are working super hard to get some focus on these things and get some support,” he said. “Anything that the city is willing to do has a huge impact for us.”

1 COMMENT

  1. A great idea but why do these things stay hidden and/or confusing to users? Both the city and the garage operators should make sure every business knows about this and ask them to out it ion their website, in email blasts, ticket and reservation confirmations, etc. it isn’t hard. The Chanber of Commerce and Visit Oakland need to be part of it We often go Uptown Oakland for concerts, dinner and The New Parkway but this is news to me.

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