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Boston Properties: Impact of Town Center Paid Parking ‘Far Less’ Than Claimed

by Dave Emke — February 9, 2017 at 11:30 am 72 Comments

Reston Town Center Red Garage

(Updated at 12:40 p.m. to correct title of Kathy Walsh. She is marketing director of the Fallston Group, not of Boston Properties.)

Following Monday’s meeting of Reston Town Center merchants discussing their concerns with Town Center owner Boston Properties’ handling of paid parking, Reston Now reached out to Boston Properties with some questions.

Printed below is the full text of the responses received from Kathy Walsh, marketing director of the Fallston Group and a spokesperson for Boston Properties.

Q: Has Boston Properties met/spoken with any of the merchants since paid parking began? Are there any plans in the near future to do so?
A: Yes. Boston Properties team members remain in routine, personal contact with merchants, particularly around the paid parking model and its roll-out. The ongoing communication occurs at differing levels within each organization, from business owners to management.

Q: Does BP have any response to the claims sales went down 10-50 percent in January?
A: Although Boston Properties generally doesn’t receive January revenue data until February or March of the same year, they have specifically reached out to retailers to more quickly analyze January 2016 to January 2017 revenue data. Upon close analysis, it is clear that some of the most vocal retailers who have publicly claimed year-over-year sales are down due to paid parking are actually experiencing sales increases for that time period. It is important to emphasize this is a 30-day snapshot and not a longer-term trend, and this reflects a small sampling of retailers. Boston Properties will continue to closely analyze all revenue activity.

Q: Has there been any discussion internally at BP about what this change has done to the business climate at RTC?
A: While Boston Properties fully expects to see some change upon the onset of paid parking, our data reflects far less impact than what is being reported publicly by certain merchants. For instance, when analyzing parking occupancy in garages Monday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., there were 68,000 visits in January, compared to 72,000 in November, which is naturally higher as the holiday shopping season kicks off. We believe this is a normal seasonal decrease. Interestingly, data shows that, on average, those visitors stayed longer in January – 4.59 hours – as compared to November (4.5) and December (4.25).

Q: A business owner at [Monday]’s meeting claimed she signed a new lease last year and BP’s plan to switch to paid parking was not disclosed. Was the intention to implement paid parking disclosed to all incoming/renewing businesses?
A: Without exception, there is language about paid parking built into every lease, so any renewing or new tenants should have been fully aware of the possibility.

Q: Is BP confident about maintaining paid parking as is?
A: While Boston Properties is confident paid parking is here to stay, the paid parking model has only been activated for five weeks. As Boston Properties continues to monitor impact and feedback, Boston Properties will assess if modifications to the system and process are necessary.

Walsh also said paid parking has not been the explicit reason for any retailers leaving Reston Town Center since its implementation.

“Every tenant who has left either already planned to leave Reston Town Center and was in the process of negotiating their departure or closed their doors for other business reasons.”

Walsh said 13 retailers renewed leases in the Town Center in 2016. Already in 2017, she said, two have renewed and four new retail leases are in progress.

The spokesperson also stressed that Boston Properties has determined that many owners of Reston Town Center establishments have “a very high degree of concern” about what people representing their businesses are saying publicly:

“Through Boston Properties’ efforts to engage retailers, they have determined that many of the most vocal people allegedly representing Reston Town Center retailers are employees rather than owners of those establishments. Boston Properties has had numerous discussions with owners and senior managers who have indicated they do not share their employees’ views or approve of their behavior in response to paid parking. In fact, Boston Properties has received numerous calls from retailers who expressed a very high degree of concern about the public posture of a few. Candidly, they want no part of those who are attempting to dissuade customers from coming to Reston Town Center.”

In regard to the ParkRTC app, Walsh said the number of phone calls and emails regarding questions about the app have “dropped significantly,” though she says Boston Properties understands some people continue to experience frustration.

“Boston Properties is continuing to work to implement changes to make it even more user-friendly. Many people are successfully using the app, with 78% of daily parkers paying via the app. There have also been 75,000 downloads of the app to date, with an average of 1,000 new downloads per day.”

While a number of people have expressed fears about the security of the app, Walsh said those worries are unfounded:

“The ParkRTC app is supported by Passport, the largest provider of mobile payment software for parking in North America. Both Passport Inc. and Reston Town Center take the important responsibility to protect credit card information very seriously. Passport conducts regular audits of its information security systems to ensure there are no vulnerabilities — data security is core to their business. In fact, Passport employs a two factor authentication (2FA) process that requires first-time users to verify their identity by entering a text authorization sent to verify device ownership in addition to a pin number. Passport also holds compliance with PCI DSS Level 1 certification, the most stringent data security framework administered by the PCI Security Standards Council. Passport will never sell or distribute ParkRTC user information to third parties.”

Walsh said Boston Properties has implemented, or plans to implement, a number of system improvements in response to customer feedback, including:

  • Doubled the number of parking ambassadors, primarily at night for retail shoppers
  • Added educational signage
  • Added a list of validating retailers to the app
  • Updated the FAQs on the website
  • Coming in March, look for an upgraded credit card pay station with a screen three times the size of the current screen and that provides better functionality in extreme weather

Walsh said a task force is working to ensure the future of Reston Town Center is bright.

“Boston Properties has assembled a task force consisting of development, leasing, marketing and property management personnel representing residential, commercial and office properties who are meeting with national consultants to develop and implement a strategy designed to ensure Reston Town Center remains an upscale destination and draw for those looking to live, work, shop and play.”

Aaron Mervis, who manages Big Bowl restaurant and is one of the organizers of the merchants’ group opposing the current paid parking system, issued this statement to Reston Now in response:

“It is important that Boston Properties understands that the Tenants’ goal is to improve the situation in the Reston Town Center and protect their businesses, which will also benefit Boston Properties. Tenants have expressed a large list of concerns directly related to the paid parking, including decreased sales and a significant rise in customer complaints about both the complexity of the system and the cost.”

“Boston Properties’ desire to wait while continuing to analyze the effects on business in the hope the uproar will recede will only make it more difficult to convince disenchanted customers who have changed their eating and buying habits to return. They have many options.”

“While owners and managers of establishments are upset, we also encourage management from Boston Properties to speak directly with the employees of the various stores in the town center for their thoughts on the impact of paid parking. Many of these employees receive tips or commission. As business has slumped, hours have been reduced and they are earning less in commissions and tips.”

  • Gregg Rosenberg

    How could Boston Properties know the number of parking visitors and how long they stayed during November? In November, there was no parking system tracking cars. I used to go to RTC once or twice per week before January (haven’t been since) and I don’t recall seeing the kind of on-foot manpower in the garages which would be required to calculate the statistics their rep is quoting.

  • Carlin Dean

    What a joke, I’ve stopped shopping there since the parking rules went up (usually went once or twice a week before), and I’m not the only one.

  • Adrian Havill

    How many lies were in those statements? Based on my observations and reports from others and the merchants, plenty.

  • noodmik

    Kathy “KellyAnne Conway” Walsh is just doing her job.

    Remember the Bowling Green Massacre.

  • cRAzy

    Wow! For something that allegedly didn’t have a significant impact, BoPro is sure spending a lot of time and money to say so.

    In short, a pack of lies.

  • Poster

    Kathy Walsh does not work for BP – she is with the Fallston Group. Fallston is the PR/Crisis Management firm that BP is paying to try to salvage this debacle. She is the same woman who said the ‘people will eventually come around to paid parking.’

    • EliteinReston

      She lives in Baltimore.

      • Elizabeth Krial

        Yes— is clear that she does not live here, because she doesn’t understand Restonians.

    • Alex S

      BP should stop paying a PR firm and “suck it up”

  • Scott

    Friday nights, RTC is a ghost town and restaurants that previously had long waits have open tables. No chance that the impact hasn’t been substantial.

    • Ray Wedell

      They should be ashamed for putting this sham press release out. And the woman who is front and center in presenting the lies? Has she no pride?

      • Ken Perkal

        Who is she.. I would like to speak with her directly.

    • Ray Wedell

      Scott— Talk about killing the goose that laid the golden egg. RTC restaurants used to be packed every night, and they drove business and social activity. It is as if BP just flipped a switch from “on” to “off”, and they are incapable of seeing nor admitting this.

  • Tom H

    I like to deal with facts. Can any managers of restaurants or stores in the town center validate or in-validate this statement?

    “Upon close analysis, it is clear that some of the most vocal retailers who have publicly claimed year-over-year sales are down due to paid parking are actually experiencing sales increases for that time period. — Kathy Walsh, marketing director, Fallston Group.

    • LL

      Those are “alternative facts” put up as paid talking points by a professional PR firm that is spinning.

    • Ryan

      Last January there was a massive snowstorm in the area. Data cherry picking. It’s highly unlikely any restaurants in RTC are going to see YoY sales growth for the rest of the year.

  • Motoring

    Sorry, but these responses won’t change my opinion. I will continue to not visit RTC at any point until this system is fixed and something mutual is agreed upon between retailers and BP. I truly miss my interactions at RTC which makes me sad.

    • June Smith

      I have no reason to visit the RTC … the beauty of living in this area is that anything you can find at the RTC – you can also find at any mall or shopping center within a 20 mile radius …. in any direction.

      One day BP will figure that out

      • Thomas

        So you’ll end up paying for gas and maybe itll end being more then it cost to park at RTC? Good thinking!

        • Guest

          We don’t all drive a ’77 Eldorado.

          I mean maybe we wish we did, but we don’t.

          • June Smith

            i have a 5-speed, 4-cyl “girly truck” that gets 19 mpg – combined.

        • June Smith

          Not even close my friend … Mapquest calculates the cost to drive to your destination – driving to Tysons, Fair Oaks, or even out to Leesburg is less than spending a few hours at RTC (including lunch with friends)

          Are you a BP Shill?

        • Filthy Liar

          Tons of people are quite willing to pay a little extra to bring BP to their knees on this issue.

          • BJ

            And I am one of them. Not paying. Ever.

        • Ken Perkal

          Hey Thomas, It’s the principle, dope!
          BOYCOTT RTC PAID PARKING!
          Period.

          • Ray Wedell

            I almost hate to tell you this, but it goes way deeper. People are creatures of habit, and this parking action has broken some established habits of just going to the RTC, meeting people at the RTC, etc. In my own relatively inactive life (lol) I have ventured to places other than my default RTC visits, including movies, restaurants, work out places (bye bye Crunch). I am discovering different “go to” locations. I am sure there are hundreds of more people like me. The RTC is no longer as strong a “core stop” for Reston as it once was. Will it return to that status? Who knows—but with each passing day, more and more people grow accustomed to NOT going there.

  • June Smith

    Boston Properties has said a lot of things that have been proven “not quite truthful.”

  • Tom H
    • LL

      You call that “busy” those must be your “alternative facts”. Mortons used to have no availability during those times that are now open. 6:45pm on a Friday is prime dinner time and you can get a reservation. That tells you all you need to know about the spinning going on.

      • Guest

        Perhaps all the annuity sellers have flown south for the winter?

      • The Constitutionalist

        Sarcasm is hard.

  • johnQPublic

    I no longer go to the Clown Center due to this money grab. I only hope more pressure is put on BP to stop this $$ and data ciphering. What a joke

    • Rhawnhurst

      It defies common sense to think that this paid parking could work. Many businesses are on the brink of profit or loss and even a 10% drop in revenues could be devastating. Yes, if you live close by, you may continue going rather than to drive and pay for gas. But if you live 5 miles west or south, why go? What’s annoys a lot of people is BP’s claim that they are helping make it an elite shopping experience or the Metro nonsense. `No other suburban shopping centers near Metro charges (or as least as much). The ONLY reason I can think of behind paid parking is for BP to make more money. But this is private enterprise, and they have all the right in the world to do it. If it works, good for them. But if revenues fall and tenants leave, they will alter their policy. What makes most sense is to just let people have 3 hours free. That eliminates Metro use, but also allows people plenty of time to shop or dine.

  • Greendayer

    If it’s such a “success”, I’m sure Lake Anne, Plaza America, and the Spectrum Centre will be clamoring to add pay parking as soon as possible. Ha! Just.say.no.to.the.Town.Center.

  • Nyla J.

    I did my own independent research yesterday. I drove through the town center. It was empty. I can also tell you that my own personal sales at Reston Town Center are down 100% since the enactment of paid parking.

    • Ray Wedell

      Amazing what a ghost town it looks like now. Maybe because they have a new campaign to encourage walking? Nah, wasn’t anyone out walking either.

  • LakeNewportLady

    Wow this response is very Trumpian. “No one thinks it’s bad. Everyone is saying wonderful things. People love to pay for parking. It’s the best!”

  • Scout

    Alternative Facts!!!

  • 30yearsinreston

    The PR machine is stuck on the spin cycle

  • RestonGrandma

    Took my granddaughter to movies at Worldgate on Monday instead of RTC. Comfortable recliner seats, food trays, FREE parking right below the theater. No reason to go to RTC.

  • John Pinkman

    Herndon Panera told me they were hiring more people due to increase of business from folks leaving Reston location.

  • Justno

    I like in RTC and you can see the difference everyday. Also, agree with other who say you can find same (or better) places without paying for parking.

    • Ray Wedell

      They have encouraged people to check out other alternatives, which is always a horrible business decision. Even if they went back to free parking, many now have other places they enjoy that they would never have found had this nonsense not started.

  • Ken Fredgren
    • Ken Perkal

      Thank you!

  • Nancy

    I will continue to boycott the RTC.
    Boston Properties (ticker symbol BXP) just cares about profits. Total revenue for the fourth quarter of 2016 rose 1.9% to $636.06 million, according to Forbes.
    But they will not get one penny from me.

    • Big Drop

      Transcripts of their conference call from Wednesday of last week only mentioned that Reston Town Center was 97% occupied. There was no mention of the app or paid parking. Not a single word of the 1,000+ posts on their Facebook account or of the hundreds of comments on here criticizing it.
      Most of those who own BXP have no idea they have a problem.

      • 30yearsinreston

        This is not even a blip on their radar

  • Why do you bother?

    Oh, look – alternative facts.

  • compactdisqus

    Folks heard first 15min. is now free…can anyone confirm?

    • 30yearsinreston

      Just enough time to reverse out when one realises they have to pay

  • One

    BP needs to listen to the actual people and read these comments carefully instead of drawing your own nonsense conclusions.

  • Alex S

    I have video of the BP representative interviewed today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NNOrp_83RU

  • Tammi Petrine

    “Interestingly, data shows that, on average, those visitors stayed longer in January – 4.59 hours – as compared to November (4.5) and December (4.25).”

    How amusing that this Kellyanne Conway BP spinner, Kathy Walsh cites Nov. and Dec. stats for time customers spend in RTC garages… How did they pull that off when the timed parking deal didn’t start until Jan, 2017? Or did their spyware activate early and no one knew? Whole deal is creepy…

    No RTC for our family until the parking is 100% free.

    • John Higgins

      This is, indeed, an interesting burst of meaningless statistics. Is Ms. Conway suggesting that people like paying so much that they stay longer than when it was free? I infer that “visitors” means all garage users, including office workers. Factor in the office closings and holiday leave and one would expect folks to be on the job more in January than in November and December.
      How about showing apples to apples? Compare January 2016 to January 2017. Better yet, hold off on the stats until they actually tell us something.

  • Brett Haberle

    Ok well I will never go until they stop charging. Plenty of other options where the property owners are not greedy.

  • Ray Wedell

    You did not really think that BP would simply admit their folly and move on, did you? What about those in political positions who allowed this to go through so easily?

  • Arielle in NoVA

    I call #BS that the paid parking is helping sales. I have not been shopping at RTC since the paid parking was announced. However, I had to take someone else there one afternoon this week – they had to stop by the Apple store and I was already giving them a ride home.

    In the past (before paid parking), I would have parked, walked, and shopped – and since I’d missed lunch that day, food would have been one of my purchases. Panera, quite likely, since I wasn’t sure how long the wait would be. With Valentine’s Day and some birthdays coming up, I would have popped into at least one or two stores. But not with paid parking, and a complicated mess at that – a few quarters in a meter, sure; an app? no way.

    So I waited out front of Apple for a few minutes – as long as seemed reasonable, given that there was an empty spot near the store and not a lot of traffic – and then, since it wasn’t clear from any of the signs if you could wait IN a car that was running while waiting for someone to come out of a store (and it would surely take a few minutes for someone to use the app to pay), took a long, circular loop around some streets and checked back. Snacked on some nuts I had in the car, to hold me over until I got home. Repeated the loop a few times – for about forty minutes in all – until my passenger was ready to go.

    Had I known it would take that long, I would simply have gone to La Madeleine or Einstein Bagel or somewhere else close, eaten, and come back.

    But had there been free parking – even for an hour – I would have spent $$ at RTC that afternoon. Had to be there anyway. But I’d rather put a little wear and tear on my vehicle (the driving around) and sit around a bit than pay for parking at RTC. It’s the principle of the thing.

  • EADGBE

    Sounds like someone has a case of loser denial.

  • Willie Reston

    Even if her claim that January 2017 store revenues are up over January 2016 (which is highly debatable), it would almost certainly be because January 2017 saw almost Spring-like temperatures whereas January 2016 was bitter cold and had a historic snowstorm that crippled the region for a solid week.

  • jmsullivan

    My company cut some kind of deal with Boston Properties to cover our parking. I don’t know the particulars; I assume they’re paying BP something. And we were told we were okay, we were listed in a database and could park as before.

    So a couple days ago, an email went around saying, no, actually we can park for free but only in the Orange Garage, behind Jackson’s, and BP’s parking subcontractor is starting to cite employee vehicles parked in the other garages.

    So now that garage is jammed, it’s a huge pain in the ass to get in and out of, and I’m looking for another position outside the Town Center. (Let’s face it, in my business, the companies and the jobs are all pretty much the same, people move around a lot, and companies are always looking.) Done with this.

    If I were a more cynical person… ah, who am I kidding. I note with bemusement that the Orange Garage is the one where Jackson’s cleverly got permanent free validation. You don’t suppose BP is trying to screw them over by packing that garage with office workers, do you?

    • Tom H

      Curious, you know for sure that “Jackson’s … got permanent free validation”?

      • jmsullivan

        Sorry it took me so long to notice your question. If you’re still interested, no I don’t know the hard details of the Jackson’s lease, but others have talked a lot about Jackson’s supposedly having a canny negotiator who managed to get that spelled out in their lease. And it seems believable to me given the strong language of the big sign Jackson’s has out on the patio saying that their customers will “always” have “unlimited” free parking. That’s different from other places in the RTC that typically validate for an hour or two.

  • Reston Resident

    Dear Boston Properties: We are not going to pay for parking. Ever. Why can’t you get that through your skull?

    • Wm Nix

      It’s laughable that they think we are being dissuaded by RTC employees. And that the business owners actually want paid parking.

  • ken

    If they really wanted to deter commuters, it would be cheaper per hour for shorter time periods. Instead the price goes down the longer you park. It appears they want commuters more than they want shoppers.

    “Without exception, there is language about paid parking built into every lease”
    I wonder if the lease protects BP from the way paid parking has been implemented. IMO, its so bad that I wonder if there is a hidden agenda to close the retail portion of RTC down.

    • Ken Perkal

      Probably so they can build more empty apartments.. a well organized community can take down a BS developer. Who wrote this article?

  • Alex S

    On a plus note, many couples may be able to find a table at the last minute on Valentine’s day this year around.

    • Kara Gardner Wills

      Yup! Tysons, One Loudoun, Mosiac and any number of other great local restaurants would love to host 🙂

  • Elizabeth Krial

    Kathy Walsh at Fallston Group– you’ve put quite a “spin” on things, which is obviously what you’re being paid to do. But we Restonians are not stupid people and can see right through your regurgitation of the facts. For instance, the “real reason” people have been staying longer at RTC in January (4.59 hours) versus November/December (4.25/4.5 hours) is because in January they were “standing around the parking garage baffled by how to park and use this god forsaken app!! They weren’t spending that extra .49 hours shopping or relaxing in a restaurant— they were sucking in fumes in the garage, cursing Boston Properties’name as they questioned whether they should park or just go home. So, continue to spin your news and facts, we Restonians aren’t buying it. We live here and we know what’s going on. Very fact that Boston Properties had to hire you as a “Crisis Management Team says it all!! But really Kathy, come up with some actual facts and data that aren’t laughable— Reston is a little more sophisticated audience than you realize. Clearly, Boston Properties doesn’t understand this demographic and neither do you!

    -Elizabeth Krial

  • That’s exactly what they believe.

  • Patturner

    Sooo angry! I just got home from visiting the Apple store in RTC. I entered one of the garages, and did see the available parking spots indicated by lighted numbers–none of which I memorized. There are green and red lights on the ceiling the purpose of which I did not understand. I found an open space, and spent about 15-20 minutes trying by phone to pay. The final automated instructions to register my credit card did not connect (I tried several times.) I downloaded the app but was not sure how to get started. I drove out of the garage in frustration and double-parked at the Apple store to tell them that I was late for the appointment, and they kindly assured me that they would help me as soon as I got parked. At last, I parked on the street and was helped by one of the parking control staff. I had to pay an extra $1 for street parking. All in all, I wasted over 30 minutes just to park. I live in Sterling, and other than necessary help sessions at the Apple store, I will NOT be visiting RTC.

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