In response to a question during the company’s quarterly earnings conference call Wednesday, Boston Properties CEO Owen Thomas said the paid-parking situation at Reston Town Center will continue to be evaluated.
Thomas was asked about “an interesting article” about the situation and tenants’ concerns about business being down. In response, the CEO said:
“We did implement paid parking at Reston Town Center at the beginning of the year. As you know, Reston is an urban location, it has structure parking primarily, and there is going to be the arrival of mass transit to the region. It’s certainly not uncommon for areas with this kind of density to have paid parking. We are utilizing a state-of-the-art parking system that is being used in cities all over the U.S., and actually the use of these systems is growing around the U.S. In Reston specifically, the system has been adopted by 140,000 users so far. Now that being said, as you suggest, certainly not all of our customers — some, but certainly not all of our customers — have expressed some concerns about the system or simply having to pay for parking, and we are continuing to evaluate our execution and make adjustments to ensure that Reston remains a preeminent location for business and residents in Northern Virginia.”
Merchants in the Town Center have reported business to be down as much as 40 percent since paid parking went into effect Jan. 3, and an organized protest of the system in March drew hundreds of participants. Jackson’s restaurant has filed a lawsuit over the implementation, and other businesses have threatened the same; however, Boston Properties says it is confident it will prevail in any legal battles.
In a statement sent to media Wednesday afternoon, Boston Properties responded to recent developments in the ongoing saga regarding paid parking at Reston Town Center.
The statement comes after a lawsuit filed by Jackson’s restaurant, an announcement by Reston Merchants Association of continued declining sales, and a statement from the Reston Citizens Association denouncing BXP’s apparent unwillingness to compromise. Released through public relations firm Fallston Group, Boston Properties’ statement claims:
- There is “variability” in month-to-month performance of RTC merchants. Some have reported increases in sales in the past 90 days, some have reported flat or decreasing sales.
- Boston Properties continues to work with retailers to provide customer support, parking validations and other assistance regarding the paid parking implementation.
- Planned enhancements of the system include the addition of change machines to better accommodate cash customers, as well as improvements to payment kiosks.
- Car counts represent “high adoption rates” of the paid-parking policies. More than 112,000 downloads of the ParkRTC app have been made, including 22,000 in the past week.
- The $8 million of annual paid-parking revenue estimated by groups including the Reston Citizens Association is “outdated and inaccurate,” and true expectations are “significantly less.”
- Boston Properties is committed to reinvesting a comparable value to its profit from paid parking back into the Town Center and the Reston community through ongoing maintenance, capital improvements, community events and charitable donations.
- BXP is “very confident” it will prevail against all legal challenges related to paid parking.
The full text of the statement is below:
Boston Properties is prohibited by the terms of most of its leases from commenting on the specific sales results of its individual tenants. In any given year, Reston Town Center’s retail tenants see fluctuations in sales for a variety of reasons, from weather to seasonality to marketplace conditions. Additionally, monthly sales trends can vary widely among those tenants, depending on their business model, marketplace adaptation and sales tactics. Based on the information provided to date under the terms of our leases, we have seen variability in the month to month performance of the merchants at Reston Town Center prior to the introduction of paid parking. That trend has continued over the past 90 days, with some tenants reporting sales are up and others reporting flat or decreased sales.
Boston Properties has always been committed to working with its tenants for mutual success. Since paid parking was implemented, we have worked with our retailers to provide customer support, parking validations and other assistance as the Reston Town Center complex adjusts to paid parking. (As a reminder, parking in the garages is free on weekends and select holidays, and parking remains free at all times for retail employees.) Boston Properties continues to monitor paid parking adoption and will consider all appropriate policy and technology amendments as needed to ensure the long-term success of the Town Center. For instance, upcoming planned enhancements include the addition of change machines to better accommodate cash customers and improvements to the payment kiosks.
Additionally, Boston Properties’ car count continues to reflect high adoption rates of the new parking policies by the community. The ParkRTC app has been downloaded more than 112,000 times — with 22,000+ people signing up in the last week alone — and to date, nearly 85,000 individuals have utilized the app to pay for parking. Since paid parking was rolled out in January, garage usage by non-office tenants have steadily increased, week over week.
Regarding the $8 million annual revenue number that has been repeatedly referenced, the estimated figure was from 2011 and was based on very different operating assumptions. It is both outdated and inaccurate. While Boston Properties does not report property-specific performance, revenue expectations are significantly less, as the vast majority of visitors and tenants are either validated or do not pay for parking. Further, Boston Properties is committed to reinvesting a comparable value to its profit from paid parking back into the Town Center and the Reston community through ongoing maintenance, capital improvements, community events and charitable donations.
Finally, regarding recent legal action, Boston Properties is very confident it will prevail against any and all legal challenges related to paid parking.
Much of the information provided in the statement echoes previous statements from Boston Properties regarding the paid-parking initiative.
The Reston Citizens Association says it wants Boston Properties to give the money it is collecting from paid parking at Reston Town Center — a number the group projects to be $8 million annually — back to the community.
In a Tuesday statement, RCA says it has attempted to engage with Boston Properties for more than a year in the effort to “find a compromise that would allow the Town Center to retain its character while respecting [BXP]’s development rights.” Further, the Citizens Association challenged Boston Properties to — if paid parking is here for good — commit the revenue to “community betterments and activities that benefit Reston.”
“RCA makes this call because of the misinformation and untruths that [BXP] provided to RCA. From the very beginning, knowing how central the cellphone app would be for the paid parking experience, RCA asked many questions regarding how the App would work. Despite the assurances that were given to RCA that the ParkRTC App would provide a very user-friendly experience, today it is clear this is patently not true.”
In its statement, RCA says the paid-parking system is “confusing, contradictory and [the] subject of great frustration for users.” The citizens’ organization says it stands with merchants and others who are calling for the system to be scrapped or significantly overhauled.
Last week, Jackson’s restaurant filed a lawsuit against Boston Properties regarding the implementation of the paid-parking system. Other merchants within the Town Center say they are likely to do the same, and they continue to organize events to shed light on their displeasure.
The Citizens Association says it is willing to continue to work with Boston Properties on any mutually acceptable agreement that can be found.
“[BXP] has in the past been a good and generous manager of the Reston Town Center and can be this again. RCA stands ready to work with [BXP] to address its legitimate concerns about commuter parking while at the same time preserving the open and welcoming character of the Town Center that has made it such a centerpiece of our community and the greater region.”
The Reston Merchants Association is not backing down in its opposition to paid parking at Reston Town Center, which it says has drastically hurt business.
In an announcement Tuesday, the group’s organizers says they plan to hold a town hall-style meeting in May to discuss the issue. Merchants, community leaders, elected officials and more will be invited to speak and take questions from citizens. RTC owner Boston Properties, which implemented the paid-parking system in January, will also be invited to participate in the event, according to the announcement.
In addition, the Merchants Association says it plans to work with community organizers to hold a march and rally in June to protest the paid-parking system. A march earlier this month, organized by citizen group Reston United, saw hundreds of participants.
“The community has spoken and they are fed up with paid parking,” said Aaron Gordon, owner of Red Velvet Cupcakery and the head of the Merchants Association. “Not only is it expensive, but the app that people have to download to park is onerous, complicated and an invasion of their privacy. People don’t want to hand over their license plate number and credit card information to Boston Properties. As a result of all of this, we see that many of our best customers are boycotting RTC altogether and others have said they will never come back.”
Last week, one restaurant in the Town Center — Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food & Lucky Lounge — filed a lawsuit against Boston Properties, arguing their lease agreement was violated by the paid-parking system and that it has been an impediment to conducting business. In Tuesday’s announcement, the Reston Merchants Association says its supports the suit and “is likely to seek similar legal action for similar reasons in the following month.”
Boston Properties has so far not backed down from the system, which charges $2/hour in parking garages Monday through Friday and $3/hour for on-street parking Monday through Saturday. It has said the impact of the system on Reston Town Center business has been “far less” than claimed.
The Reston Merchants Association, however, says retailers and restaurateurs have seen “sinking sales figures” and a “precipitous drop-off in foot traffic” in 2017. They say that is directly related to Boston Properties’ paid-parking initiative.
Figures reported Tuesday by the Merchants Association, which they say were provided with consent from companies’ owners or corporate officials, include:
- Red Velvet Cupcakery reports March sales are down 19 percent. It projects a yearly drop of 25%.
- Big Bowl reports sales down 26 percent in March. Sales were down 15 percent in February, and it is down 4,500 customers over last year.
- Busara reports March sales are down 18 percent.
- The Counter Burger reports March sales are down approximately 24 perent.
- Dawn Price Baby reports February sales were down 18 percent, while its other locations were up an average of 20 percent for the same month.
- The Eyewear Gallery reports February sales were down 29 percent.
- Potomac River Running reports March sales are down 37 percent, while its seven other locations sales are higher.
- Edibles Incredible Desserts reports February sales were down 28 percent.
- Ted’s Bulletin reports sales are down significantly on the year, while other locations have even or higher sales compared to last year.
“Paid parking is simply killing business, ruining our reputation and destroying the sense of community that has always been the pride of Reston,” Gordon said. “The merchants are suffering across the board from the greedy money-grab of one company and many of us are being driven out of business.”
(Updated 11:35 a.m. with more information from lawsuit and link to view document; updated 4:30 p.m. with statement on behalf of Boston Properties)
The first lawsuit regarding Boston Properties’ paid parking system at Reston Town Center has been filed.
In a press release Thursday morning, Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food and Lucky Lounge (11927 Democracy Drive) announced the suit, which includes a motion for a temporary injunction over the “cumbersome paid parking system [Boston Properties] implemented in January 2017.”
Representatives of Town Center businesses have been meeting among themselves to discuss their options since paid parking began, and the threat of potential legal action was first made public in early February.
The suit by Jackson’s (view) was filed Wednesday afternoon in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County. In addition to the injunction, the restaurant seeks “an award of damages of $500,000 or other specific amount to be established at trial.”
According to the lawsuit, Jackson’s says it negotiated lease terms preventing Boston Properties from implementing parking controls that “unduly impede” guests and requiring Boston Properties to assure that any paid parking system must allow Jackson’s to validate parking — at no expense to the restaurant — for guests and employees. The lawsuit claims the validation system imposed by BXP violates the restaurant’s lease rights and the requirements it sought.
“Our team has been inundated with complaints from guests who tell us that the process to use the validation system is cumbersome and confusing,” said Orson Williams, managing partner at Jackson’s, in the announcement. “On top of that, Boston Properties’ parking attendants often give incorrect and misleading instructions when our guests seek help in getting unlimited free parking.”
Jackson’s, operated by Great American Restaurants, opened in the Town Center in 2008.
Restaurants and other businesses within the Town Center have claimed major decreases in business since the paid parking system went into place. An organized protest that took place earlier this month saw hundreds of participants from throughout the community.
Boston Properties has said the impact of paid parking on Town Center business has been “far less” than claimed.
“We did not want to have to sue and we tried to work with Boston Properties to address our concerns and our rights under the lease to give our customers free and hassle-free parking, both before and after Boston Properties implemented this parking system. But they were uncompromising and appeared disinterested in working with us to provide our guests a better experience at Reston Town Center,” said Jon Norton, CEO of Great American Restaurants, in the announcement. “It appears to us that they are focused on maximizing revenue instead of honoring the spirit and terms of our lease, and seem unconcerned with the impact their system has had on the Town Center. It is disappointing that they have spent so much time bolstering a PR campaign rather than working with us to fulfill their lease obligations.”
Spokesperson Kathy Walsh of the Fallston Group, speaking on behalf of Boston Properties, said it “would be inappropriate to discuss pending litigation, particularly as there is a confidentiality provision that prevents either party from discussing many of the lease terms.”
More Speak Out Against Paid Parking — The owner of Obi Sushi says sales are down about a third since Boston Properties initiated paid parking at Reston Town Center. Meanwhile, the president of the Reston Citizens Association says it’s just one more sore spot to a community battling an increasing cost of living. [Washington Post]
Retired Detective’s Story Gains Attention — As we reported, retired Fairfax County Police Department detective Bruce Wiley took care of a 17-year-old intruder at his Beaver Circle home last week using no more than a flashlight and a baton. Since, he has shared further details about the incident with Washington television stations. “I was lucky that he didn’t have a gun,” he told one. [Fox 5 DC/WJLA]
Nominations Still Open for Reston Volunteer Awards — Candidates for Reston Association’s Volunteer Service Awards can still be nominated until Friday. The awards recognize individuals, families, groups and businesses that make a significant contribution to the community through volunteer service. [Reston Association]
SLHS Baseball Star Continues His Success — Jared Abelson, a 2015 South Lakes High School graduate, picked up two hits for Macalester College in a game over the weekend against Marian University in the Tucson Invitational. The sophomore is batting .478 through six games this season. [Macalester College Athletics]
The following open letter by Aaron Gordon of the Reston Merchants Association is offered in response to the open letter penned by Boston Properties that appeared on Reston Now on March 3.
Dear Fellow Community Members,
Reston is a unique place. Besides living, working and playing here, we are a close-knit group, brought together by the desire to know each other and to be part of a distinct community. Boston Properties’ implementation of a paid parking system is tearing the fabric of who we are, how we choose to live and what we do within Reston.
For 26 years, we have enjoyed the ability to park in Reston Town Center, meet friends or be alone, go to work, walk around, shop (or not), dine and take advantage of the entertainment opportunities. The Town Center has been a formal and informal gathering place, a place that often costs nothing to use, but provides much enjoyment.
Sadly, Boston Properties’ decision to install paid parking has turned a once vibrant community into just another mall.
Boston Properties has given many excuses over the past year for its decision to institute paid parking. Excuses like parking convenience and combatting Metro commuters. Don’t let them fool you … the truth is there is only one reason to charge for parking — profit.
Ray Ritchie, Executive Vice President of Boston Properties, set out his case back in 2011, when in a shareholders call, he laid out just how much money the company would make by charging us for parking. Ritchie outlined that the paid parking plan would make Boston Properties $8 million per year and would be worth $130 million of additional value to the company.
On March 3, 2017, Boston Properties, in an open letter to the community published in Reston Now, stated that their three primary goals for activating paid parking include protecting parking rights for the RTC tenants and visitors, enhancing the parking experience of tenants, visitors and patron and augmenting revenues dedicated to reinvestment in the Reston community.
In the same letter, Boston Properties listed a series of reasons attempting to validate their paid parking program. We find many of these justifications to be inaccurate and offensive and underscores Boston Properties’ overreach.
Paid parking will help manage unwarranted commuter parking.
Commuter parking was never the issue. It is easily solvable by instituting 3-4 hours free parking and charging commuters. Also, Boston Properties lumps overnight and out-of-town parking into this category. This is different from commuter parking. Boston Properties’ paid parking plan is an overreach designed to add revenue for the company.
Boston Properties is committed to assisting retailers during this period.
There is not “regular communication” and “open and honest dialogue.” Rather, Boston Properties gives the same automated answer to everyone, which is to say that it will take months to analyze the situation and right now it is too early to formulate any conclusions.
Paid parking is not having the adverse impact that has been reported.
Why would merchants be so upset if their numbers were not down dramatically?
Boston Properties’ statement is not accurate. Of course paid parking and the onerous parking system has had, and is having, an adverse effect. Most of the retailers have indicated that paid parking has been a disaster for business and projected sales are down dramatically. We are losing long-time customers who may never return. If this continues, many merchants have indicated that they will not be in business long.
Each retailer chooses whether or where to validate parking.
We find it galling that Boston Properties is actually attempting to muddy the waters and place the parking fiasco on the merchants of Town Center!
Boston Properties, which already charges some of the highest rent in the area, now wants its merchants to pay them for validation as well. Validation is extremely costly for every merchant and not workable for stores whose standard items are low value like coffee, baked goods or ice cream. Many merchants simply don’t make enough revenue to pay additional fees for parking. Additionally, it is absurd to expect guests and shoppers to have to figure out which retailer participates in the validation program and where, if the store participates, they may park.
No retailers have closed as a result of paid parking.
Two stores, Origins and BGR Burger, have recently closed and one said that the new paid parking was the “nail in the coffin.” At least one other store has indicated that it will leave when its lease is up in a year. And, new merchants are already shying away from RTC due to the disastrous impact of paid parking.
Boston Properties has already made a number of changes based on customer feedback, including offering: free parking in garages on weekends, holidays and special event days; doubling the number of parking ambassadors, primarily at night to assist retail shoppers; installing additional onsite educational signage; adding a list of validating retailers to the ParkRTC app; regularly updating FAQs on the website.
There is much confusion about this. As it turns out, free parking does not include street parking. It was also not free on MLK Day. And “special event” means any day that Boston Properties deems special, usually an event they are running to benefit their brand.
The “parking ambassadors” are unfriendly and not helpful, and seem to be on hand mostly to warn you that you must pay. They are not knowledgeable about the system and generally can’t help guests figure it out.
Educational signage? The signage is not succinct and/or user-friendly. One customer — an astronaut! — was having trouble figuring it all out in a timely fashion, and complained to the proprietor of the store she was in.
Stop adding things to the app. Treat all retailers the same. Give everyone the same advantage in attracting shoppers. We want everyone to succeed.
As for updating the app, you can update it every day and people still won’t care. People want free and safe parking.
The ParkRTC app is secure to use, and most daily parkers are paying using the app.
The app gets a terrible 1 1/2 stars out of 5 on its reviews from the app store. Users say they don’t trust it, and many wonder why Boston Properties needs all this information about RTC patrons.
Boston Properties remains dedicated to nonprofit fundraising.
Yes, Boston Properties scheduled its last nonprofit fundraiser to coincide with the rally residents and merchants organized against paid parking at the same time on the same day. They did everything they could to limit the protest, including restricting the group from rallying on Reston Town Center property.
Boston Properties remains committed to this paid parking model which they believe meets the objective above.
The longer this situation goes on, and with no negotiating with Boston Properties, the more people will go elsewhere, the harder it will be to bring them back and the community as a whole will become less desirable.
Boston Properties will continue to support our community’s strategic plan.
If the plan is to destroy Reston Town Center, this is the path to take. If the plan is beyond making more revenue, providing conveniences, services, and a gathering place for people to live, work and play, Boston Properties must reconsider the parking program they have implemented.
Reston Merchants Association
Hundreds of displeased residents braved chilly temperatures Saturday to participate in a march to protest paid parking at Reston Town Center.
“We believe it’s a huge success, despite the cold weather,” organizer Guarang Shah said. “Final numbers are 450-plus.”
Reston Town Center patrons and business owners have been making their displeasure known since RTC owners Boston Properties announced last year their plan to institute paid parking. The initiative went into effect Jan. 3, after which businesses have said their customer base has dwindled.
Reston Town Center paid parking protest https://t.co/Fgbvs74YXf
— Dave Emke (@emkedave) March 4, 2017
The throng of protesters began their afternoon march in the parking lot of Winwood Children’s Center on New Dominion Parkway. Aaron Gordon, owner of Red Velvet Cupcakery at RTC, stood among the protesters in the parking lot and said the support shown by local residents means a lot to merchants affected by the decision by RTC owners Boston Properties.
“It feels like we’re not the only ones in this battle; it feels like everyone has the same anger,” Gordon said. “We’ve been making the argument that we’re down in sales and customers are no longer coming, and this proves our point.”
The protesters were not given permission by Boston Properties to march within Reston Town Center; however, the marchers’ path did cut through — under the close eye of security — as they worked their way back to New Dominion Parkway. After looping around Not Your Average Joe’s, the protesters lined up along the parkway and were greeted by a large amount of honked support from passing motorists.
Marchers were encouraged to document the event on social media with the hashtag #parkfreertc.
— #Resist (@KevinPrecht) March 4, 2017
— EJay (@AvenueFoche) March 4, 2017
Boston Properties has said that the paid parking initiative is “here to stay” and that the distress claimed by businesses is being overblown. Gordon, who is organizing a group of merchants considering legal action against Boston Properties, said he is hopeful that the company will eventually see business in the Town Center is down “disastrously” and will have a change of heart.
“If there are 500 people out here, that represents 50,000 people that feel the exact same way,” Gordon said. “Just as Boston Properties is saying they’re never going to take away paid parking, we’re never going to go away.”
Wendy Warren, of Herndon, was one of the former Town Center patrons who came out Saturday to support the cause. She said she and her family visited RTC two or three times a week prior to paid parking. Now, they go to the Mosaic District or One Loudoun instead.
“There are no other suburban shopping areas around here that have paid parking, or such a poorly designed app,” she said, citing concerns that have been raised by a number of people who’ve spoken out against the system’s ParkRTC app. Boston Properties insists the app is secure.
Wendy’s husband, William, said Boston Properties should consider a different approach to its paid-parking initiative.
“Three hours of free parking, so that you could come here for something like dinner,” he said. “They state they want it to guard against commuter parking, but they could easily accommodate for people who want to come use the amenities here at the Town Center.”
Shah said if Boston Properties didn’t take notice of Saturday’s protest, there will be more to come.
“If they don’t change their mind, there will be another march,” he said. “We are already planning another march that will take place in summertime.”
More than 300 people have indicated on Facebook that they plan to participate in the event, while more than 800 others have shown interest. Guarang Shah, one of the group’s organizers, said he is confident there will be a strong turnout for the event. A large number of commenters on the Facebook page have shown their support for the cause and/or announced their intention to attend.
Shah said the protest won’t take place on Reston Town Center property, as Boston Properties did not grant permission for the group to do it there. The group will “march a route provided by the Fairfax County Police,” according to the Facebook page.
Elizabeth Krial, another event organizer, said she has spoken about the group’s concerns with Raymond Ritchey, Boston Properties executive vice president.
“The protest is not about an opposition to Boston Properties, the protest is to bring them to a conversation about how this parking model could be improved so it actually works for the demographic,” Krial said. “[Ritchey] definitely seemed like a part of him was open. I think it was a good positive first step. He said he is personally and professionally invested in the Town Center.”
The protest is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. Saturday.
(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.”
The battle between Reston Town Center businesses and RTC owner Boston Properties over paid parking appears to be just beginning.
About 50 people, including dozens of representatives from Town Center restaurants and shops, met Monday at Vapiano restaurant to share information, voice their frustrations and continue to work out how they should proceed. They did so as sales at their shops and restaurants continue to dip, as customers have been staying away from the Town Center since paid parking began Jan. 3.
Monday afternoon’s meeting came on a day when Fairfax County Public Schools had not been in session. Yasser Meshki, general manager of Vapiano, said you wouldn’t know that from the lack of customers in his restaurant.
“Every time, when school is off, we’re packed for lunch,” he said. “We make easily, let’s say $3,000. We didn’t make half of that today.”
Meshki’s comments were among numerous that were shared during the hourlong meeting. Aaron Gordon and Aaron Mervis, of Red Velvet Cupcakery and Big Bowl respectively, are organizing the group. One of the goals of Monday’s meeting was to begin the process of assimilating all the upset businesses under one association that can legally stand together against Reston Town Center.
“We’re not necessarily threatening lawsuit, but we are saying that we can explore a few different avenues,” Gordon said. “The first one is going to be to all get under one umbrella, pitch in a little money and then see where it takes us.”
Representatives of law firm Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC, who have not been retained by the group at this time, addressed the crowd and offered some preliminary advice regarding organizing. Gordon and Mervis had company representatives who attended the meeting sign up and show their willingness to join.
Some merchants who spoke during the meeting shared information about how much their sales have dropped from this time last year, with most falling between 10 and 50 percent. Even businesses that appear on the surface to be doing relatively well, such as Potomac River Running, are actually not.
“This weather is fantastic for us, so we’re having much higher sales than we normally would among our eight stores,” said owner Ray Pugsley. “My other seven stores are up between 10 and 50 percent in the last 30 days. This store here is down 4 percent.”
Evan Matz, CEO of World of Beer, said even the customers who are stopping into his restaurant show the effects of paid parking.
“We used to see customers come in with bags after shopping, and they would sit down and have a meal or lunch or a beer or something, but we don’t see those customers come in anymore,” he said. “They’re coming in, doing what they need to do, getting back in their car and leaving right away.”
Concerns about the paid parking are more than just about the cost, the merchants said. They also expressed opinions about the ParkRTC app they say is driving customers away, and about how designated employee parking spots blocks away from stores are causing hardships on their workers, among other issues.
Cliff Hallock, owner of the Ben & Jerry’s on Market Street, said he is extremely concerned about the coming months.
“I’m terrified of what’s going to happen in the future, in terms of lower foot traffic, when things should get busy in [the] March, April, May time frame,” he said. “Close friends of mine are telling me, ‘I’m sorry Cliff, I just don’t go there anymore. I love ya, but we’re not going to go there.'”
Anne Mader, co-owner of The Bike Lane, said she and her husband opened up shop in Reston because of the sense of community. She says that sense is now gone at Reston Town Center.
“Now it’s just disheartening, because it feels so unwelcome. It’s not the Reston community that I grew up in,” said Mader, whose shop is publicly seeking a new home. “It hurts my heart, it makes me sad. I really want to do business here.”
More than 150 people say they will attend a protest of Reston Town Center’s paid parking, and that number is growing.
The scores of potential demonstrators have signaled their intention on a Facebook page titled Park Free RTC (Protest). The group’s organizers are planning the event for Saturday, March 4.
As of noon Monday, 155 people had indicated they would be attending. That number has nearly doubled since Friday. Nearly 400 more had marked that they are “interested” in the event.
Guarang Shah, a Town Center resident, is one of the organizers. He said he expects about 300 people to participate in the “peaceful protest.”
According to the event details listed on the page, which went live last week:
“It’s been almost a month since RTC and Boston Properties has started Paid Parking and nobody is happy about that. Also it is most expensive parking in Northern Virginia compare to any other malls and shopping centers. Now, Reston Town Center looks empty all restaurants, bars and local businesses are down. Reston town center parking been free for years and it should be forever.” [sic]
Reston Town Center merchants have announced they are considering a lawsuit against property owner Boston Properties because of the paid parking, which they say has caused them a large chunk of their sales. Shah said merchants he’s spoken with have shared those concerns.
Shah said he organizes regular social meetups in the Town Center. He said turnout for an annual January charity event he hosts at Vapiano was down by half from last year — and many who came left early.
“Every weekend we have something, and we [would] bring a lot of crowds around the Town Center,” he said. “Right now, nobody wants to go to Town Center. I have events in Herndon and Tysons and Ashburn — we try to stay away from the Town Center.”
Shah said his group of concerned citizens has been holding meetings and plans to fight until paid parking is rescinded.
“We just want to get rid of this [paid] parking,” he said. “It’s been free for 25 years, and this is causing a lot of trouble.”
Rob Weinhold, a spokesperson for Town Center owner Boston Properties, reports that more than 42,000 downloads of the app have been made as of Wednesday morning. That number is up significantly from 28,000 on Jan. 3, the day paid parking went into effect.
Parking in the Town Center had been free since it opened in 1990. Since the paid-parking initiative began last week, it now costs $2 per hour in parking garages and $3 per hour on the street. Parking in garages is free on weekends; street parking is free on Sunday only.
Visitors who do not wish to use the app can use pay stations at the entrances to each garage.
In the week since paid parking began, at least one business — The Bike Lane — has publicly announced its intention to leave the Town Center.
In addition to concerns over the cost of parking itself, dissenters have brought up questions about privacy and app security. Town Center officials have responded to those queries, saying the app is perfectly safe to use.
The Bike Lane has been serving its customers in Reston Town Center for going on nine years.
Now, the owners of the store say they are actively seeking to leave because of the Town Center’s new paid-parking initiative.
“We believe in providing our customers with an amazing shopping experience and we do not agree with charging for parking. We are actively looking to relocate The Bike Lane in or around Reston and we will keep you updated about our future plans as they progress.”
Todd Mader owns the shop along with his wife, Anne. He tells Reston Now they only have a little over a year left on a 10-year lease and they have every intention of leaving early.
“This is not the experience we want our customers to have, to come in here during the week and battle with a parking app,” Mader said. “They come in here to buy a $10 inner tube and now they’re paying $12.”
The store is offering customers in-store credits and gift cards to compensate them for weekday parking. But Mader said in the long run, the hassle isn’t worth it when the store can just relocate.
“We were hoping parking wouldn’t be a big deal,” he said. “But if given the opportunity to move sooner rather than later, we’d do that.”
Mader said the parking situation has never been ideal for many of his customers, who may have bicycles attached to the roof or the back of their vehicle and may therefore find parking garages difficult to navigate. Now that it costs by the hour as well, he’s had enough.
“Having a space that’s more traditional, open-air shopping… that’s more what we’re looking for,” Mader said.
Social media backlash has been heavy on Reston Town Center and its owner, Boston Properties, because of the new parking fees, with many people threatening a “boycott.” However, Mader said the result of that hurts businesses such as his more than anyone.
“That’s not hurting [the Town Center and Boston Properties], not directly anyway. That’s hurting the merchant — big and small,” he said. “There is a noticeable drop in the plaza during the week. Friday night was dead, in the restaurants and in foot traffic.”
Mader said his hope is to relocate the store within a mile of its current location, so it can continue to serve its loyal patrons.
“We’re overwhelmed by the support of our customers,” he said. “We want to make it very convenient for people to find us and continue to shop with us.”
The Reston Runners have ended their tradition of gathering at Reston Town Center, citing parking fees that went into effect this week as the reason.
The local running club has long met at the Potomac River Running Store on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to begin their group runs. The store has served as something of a flagship for the group, as it even sells Reston Runners gear and gives discounts to members. The store also regularly sponsors some of the club’s events, such as the annual Runner’s Marathon of Reston.
However, now that Reston Town Center has begun charging for weekday parking, the club says it feels the fees would deter members from coming out. In response, they have decided to move their meeting location to Reston Sport and Health in Isaac Newton Square.
“For decades, Reston Town Center was a welcoming place where the community could gather freely,” Reston Runners member Dennis Hays told Reston Now. “We are saddened this is no longer the case.”
Hays said the club looks forward to continuing to partner with PRR for other events.
PRR has said it will validate one hour of parking to weekday customers who spend at least $20 in the store, and recently appealed to locals to continue supporting businesses such as theirs.
“We hope you’ll continue to support PR and shop local so that we can continue to create and expand the local walking and running community,” the store said on social media this week. “Getting active transforms lives — it would be a shame for parking get in the way.”
Hays said the club looks forward to its new partnership with Reston Sport and Health, and invites all to come out for their runs, scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in the new location.
“All runners and walkers in the community, or just visiting the area, are welcome to participate,” he said.
Photo via RestonRunners.org