Hours, weather lift 2016 beach parking to $3 million


With additional spaces and longer hours this season, Wrightsville Beach surpassed $3 million in revenue for the first time, while operating costs remained steady, the company that manages the town’s paid parking reported to the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen. Meanwhile, more parking changes could be coming, as the town’s board has a workshop scheduled in January 2017 to review new ideas.

During the Dec. 8 board of aldermen meeting, Lanier Parking presented its annual report on parking revenue, showing the town’s parking meters brought in $3.08 million, beating both budget projections and 2015 revenue by more than 20 percent. The $500,000 boost in parking revenue for the 2016 season comes after Wrightsville Beach instituted new parking restrictions, which included extending hours at the major lots and adding meters at other locations. Lanier Parking also noted that while revenues were up, the costs of collection was down 4.1 percent from 2015.

Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said the parking windfall had more to do with optimal weather as opposed to the new hours and locations.

“The biggest reason parking is significant is that we had almost perfect weather from April to September,” Blair said. “It’s soft revenue. If we have a September hurricane next time, we could end up $300,000 or $400,000 short.”

The town added new meters at the town hall lot, Wrightsville Beach Park, and in the Old Causeway Drive area, including on Keel and Marina streets, though these meters were enforced for fewer hours. The town also extended parking by one hour at the lots around town.

Adding the extra hour brought in approximately $163,000 in revenue, but it also resulted in a sharp rise in violations, generating a 57 percent rise in violation revenue as the town collected more than $50,000 in parking tickets for those lots.

One feature that is proving more popular with visitors is pay-by-phone, which nearly doubled revenue over last year with 89 percent growth behind strong usage in June, July and August. However, Lanier reported that reliance on pay-by-phone can have some drawbacks, as West Columbia and Lagoon streets, two parking areas that were changed to exclusively pay-by-phone, generated less revenue this year compared with 2015.

The town’s board of aldermen is scheduled to consider additional parking restrictions for next year. One potential change is converting spaces on Old Causeway Drive from parallel to angled, which would create 24 new spaces and increase revenue from that area by a projected 43 percent. Lanier also presented the town with projection for expanding enforcement hours across the island to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., which would generate $81,000, or to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., which would boost revenue to $131,000. Current hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for the lots, which were extended to 7 p.m. this year.

The town is scheduled to have a workshop on parking issues on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2017, at 3:30 p.m., before the regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Parking could also be an agenda topic for the town’s Jan. 23, 2017, board retreat, an open meeting where issues are discussed more informally, allowing the board to try to develop consensus.

While acknowledging that parking costs are unpopular, Blair said that the fund the town is building would be crucial for coastal storm damage reduction funding, which is needed to restore sand to the beach. The multi-million dollar projects are mostly funded through the federal government, which could move to restrict future funding when the current programs expire. The town currently has $8.8 million in its general fund, the 2016 audit presented to the board reports.

“It’s all about long-term planning. We have to build up beach renourishment savings in advance or we have to go borrow all of the money,” Blair said.

Email terrylane@luminanews.com.

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