Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Some neighbors upset with new parking fees at YWCA Midtown

Posted on 24 September 2018 by calvin

Y management says the new system will relieve congestion and misuse of the lot by non-members using the private lot

(Editor’s note: Reporter Tesha M. Christensen is a neighborhood resident and has been a member of the Midtown YWCA since 2013.)

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Some neighborhood residents and Y members are upset that the Midtown YWCA is now charging for parking.
They’re questioning why the change was made without member input, why other options weren’t considered, and why very little notice was given.

Most of all, members are upset about what amounts to a minimum $180 increase in fees for those who drive a vehicle to the YWCA on the heels of a project that closed the locker rooms for the entire summer.

Photo right: Neighbors are worried about traffic back-ups along 22nd Ave. once the new parking gates are active. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Ericsson resident Kristen Olsen is so bitter and disillusioned about the added cost and the lack of member involvement in addressing the parking situation that she canceled her membership and moved to the St. Paul JCC across the river. She had joined the YWCA in 2013.

“The parking fees amount to a substantial increase in our monthly fitness costs,” pointed out Olsen. “For my family, it’s a $15 per month increase.”

Olsen doesn’t think that the ‘solution’ is consistent with the problem identified by the YWCA, which is unauthorized parking by non-members.

“If that is truly the problem the Y is trying to solve, it could be easily addressed by installing a parking gate that scans a member card to get in, or offering two hours of free parking for members, then charging for extended visits,” said Olsen. “Instead, the Y is assessing a cost on its own members to fix a problem caused by non-members. It doesn’t seem fair to impose a penalty on members for a problem they didn’t cause.”

Olsen added, “The Y gave very little notice of the cost increase and did not include members in discussions about the problem and how it might be addressed. The Y had info sessions and sought member feedback on remodeling the locker rooms, for example. Why didn’t it include its own community and all the stakeholders in a change to the parking lot that affects almost every member who uses the club? They lost a lot of goodwill in how they rolled out this change, in my opinion.”

Letter/email sent mid-August
Members received a letter around Aug. 16 that was dated Aug. 3 and lacked the signature of a specific staff member. Instead, it was signed by “YWCA management.” An email also went out that day.

The letter announced that the YWCA Midtown was implementing a new pay parking gate system to “relieve the congestion and current misuse” of the parking lot. Installation began in August.

The YWCA has been charging for parking at its Downtown location since 1998, and about the same at the Uptown location, according to spokesperson Corinne Mattli.

Photo left: It cost about $200,000 to install the new system, which includes four parking gates and software to interface with a billing system. There is one entry and three exit gates. The YWCA Board voted on the change in June. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

There will be a 20-minute free grace period for members and program participants entering the lot who are picking up or dropping off. After that free period, parking rates at the gate start at $1 for up to 1.25 hours; 1.25-2.5 hours costs $2; with an increasing fee up to $20 for six or more hours. Credit cards will be accepted at the exit lanes, and a cash/coin/credit “pay-on-foot” station will be available. Members have the option to set up an auto-load parking card for $15 a month plus tax that will reload automatically with a monthly debit withdrawal. Members can also opt to get a stored value card that can be loaded with funds for a 10 percent credit on the total value purchased.

Families who receive their fitness memberships on scholarship based on their income will receive a free parking pass.

It cost about $200,000 to install the new system, which includes four parking gates and software to interface with a billing system. There are one entry and three exit gates. The YWCA Board voted on the change in June.

The YWCA did not have an estimate of how much the system will cost each year to maintain, nor did staff provide numbers on how much revenue the parking fees are expected to generate. Midtown YWCA General Manager Alex Aguilar stated that they expect it will take a few years to garner the $200,000 the system cost to install.

Currently, the Y is replacing about six gates at the Uptown location each year after drivers run into them.

The Midtown YWCA has about 20 bicycle spaces and plans to add additional bicycle racks, according to Aguilar.

The lot remains for members only
YWCA representatives point out that the area around the Midtown location has changed drastically since the Y moved in 18 years ago. There’s a new Hennepin County service building across 22nd Ave. S. with a paid parking lot, and the Park-and-Ride there was removed. The next phase of that project will add about 500 housing units. The light rail station at Hiawatha and Lake St. sees about 30,000 riders each week. Plus, the school district is wrapping up construction of a new Adult Education Center on the west side of the YWCA.

“It’s become more and more difficult to maintain the parking lot as a private privilege to our members,” stated Aguilar.
The Midtown lot has 178 spaces, and there have been signs in the lot for years that designate it as a member-only lot.
A few years ago, the Y’s 4,800 members received parking permits to place on their rearview mirrors when in the lot to identify themselves.

However, YWCA management contends that it has been a personal safety issue for staff to enforce that it is a member-only lot when drivers refuse to cooperate. “There have been too many incidences to count,” said Aguilar. A few cars have been towed.

Although the issue has been non-member use, the new system does not scan a member’s card before a car may enter the lot, nor does it scan a membership card when payment is made. There will continue to be signs in the lot stating it is a member-only lot, and a new sign will be placed by the entry gate. Staff will not be patrolling the lot to ensure compliance with the requirement that only members park in the lot, but if they notice that a particular vehicle seems to be a problem repeatedly, they can access video footage to help figure out if the vehicle belongs to a member or not.

The YWCA has not hired specific staff to patrol the lot and don’t plan to. Instead they have opted for an automatic system.

Some members not convinced
“This really is a last resort,” stressed YWCA Minneapolis President and CEO Luz Maria Frias. “We have a history of taking other measures with no success.”

Not all members agree with that statement, however.

“The case that the Y has made for the parking fee is not convincing,” wrote Standish-Ericsson residents Doris Overby and Dick Taylor in a letter to the Y on behalf members on Aug. 20. “In fact, the Y’s own rationale undermines the need for a parking fee. Why? Because their core reason is to deflect the wrongful use of the parking lot by non-members. One demerit of this policy is that it imposes an extra cost on many members, the very people not responsible for the problem.”

The two suggested that the fixed cost of the new parking system could be spread out over more years and the rate charged to members be reduced.

A second letter on Aug. 29 continued their argument against the new parking fees.

“The members of the Minneapolis YWCA are stakeholders with rights and genuine interests. They deserve respect and consideration. Our grievances beg to be redressed.”

On behalf of themselves and others, they suggested that a meeting be held with members.
The YWCA is not planning to hold a meeting.

“Unlike in the case of the locker room renovation for which we solicited feedback regarding the preference between the number of showers versus lockers, this was an operational and financial decision that falls well within the purview of the YWCA management,” stated Frias.

She stressed that the Y is a private non-profit—not a government entity—and doesn’t need to seek public input in decisions.
Frias added that they have heard from bicyclists and transit users who thank them for not imposing a fee for a parking lot on them.

Others think that parking should be included in their membership fees.

“The cost is not a pittance for many people. It’s $180/year. If a business (and the Y is a business) wants clients, they need to provide parking just like Target does, the bank, and even the post office does,” stated Corcoran resident Gaylyn Bicking.

“Some people have no choice but to drive due to the distance they live from the Y,” pointed out Bicking. “Some have young children. Some are elderly. Walking during our long, dark winters is problematic for women and older people.”

Corcoran resident John V. Burling pointed out, “Every paying member subsidizes everything that goes into the Y, presumably at all locations, with their dues whether they use a service or not.” Burling noted that some people don’t use the free childcare or the waterslide; they haven’t been in the sauna or the steam room; used the basketball courts or the treadmills; or participated in the women’s triathlon or any other group classes. Yet, a membership includes all these things–and should also include parking as an amenity.

The YWCA did not provide figures on how many memberships have been dropped because of the changes to the parking lot. Nor did they provide information on the last membership rate increase.

Concern about mistreatment
Twenty-five-year YWCA member Dick Taylor of Powderhorn and six-year-member Doris Overby of Standish have not yet decided whether they will remain YWCA members, and say it hinges upon the YWCA response to the parking issue, as well as an incident that happened to Overby while collecting signatures at the Midtown YWCA on Aug. 20. She was told to leave the property.

According to a letter posted publicly on the Standish-Ericsson e-Democracy forum, “Members were eagerly signing the letter when the assistant manager and the security official approached Ms. Overby in such an unfriendly way that she was made to feel hurt, embarrassed, confused, frightened, and defensive.”

Taylor and Overby stated, “We are alarmed and dismayed at the discourteous and unnecessary treatment meted out to Doris; we are disappointed by a lack of responsiveness to our concerns. The lack of response is simply a continuation of the lack of respect that has characterized this matter from the beginning.”

When asked for details about the incident, Frias and Aguilar declined to comment.

Taylor and Overby are asking for a written apology made to Overby by the CEO; a review of the protocol for staff member interactions with members that guarantees mutual respect so that the YWCA lives up to its own goals and mission; and a forum open to all members to discuss both aspects of the matter.

 

 

 

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