Modesto considers free parking to lure business downtown

kvaline@modbee.comJuly 7, 2014 

The Modesto City Council on Tuesday night will consider waiving parking fees of as much as $445,000 over five years to entice Valley First Credit Union to relocate its corporate headquarters downtown.

The proposal is part of Modesto’s effort to revitalize downtown and consists of offering Valley First free employee parking for as many as 100 employees over the five years.

Valley First President and CEO Hank Barrett said his company has outgrown its Orangeburg Avenue administrative office and has been looking for a new facility. He said the office has about 65 employees and expects to have 100 within five years.

He said Valley First considered relocating along Highway 99 between Modesto and Turlock but that appeared to be too expensive. Barrett said Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance CEO David White persuaded Valley First officials to consider downtown.

Valley First is looking at purchasing a downtown Modesto landmark – the onetime JCPenney store that later became the City Mall office complex – at the southeast corner of 11th and J streets. The building’s current tenants include the Modesto Chamber of Commerce. Barrett said if Valley First buys the three-story building, the tenants would remain on the first floor and it would occupy the upper floors.

Barrett said it would take about a year to purchase and renovate the building before Valley First would move in. But he emphasized that the deal has not been completed and Valley First has not presented the building owners with an offer. “There still are a lot of things to iron out,” he said.

Barrett said having the city waive the parking charges is key for his company to come downtown. The building does not have a parking lot and street parking often is not available and subject to time limits. Valley First would pay for parking starting in the sixth year.

Modesto charges $72 per month for one parking spot in one of its three downtown parking garages and its several parking lots, according to Josh Bridegroom, the city’s downtown program manager. That works out to $864 per employee for one year. Without the waiver, Valley First would pay the city $56,160 annually for parking for 65 employees and $86,400 for 100 employees. A city report states the value of the waiver at $89,000 per year.

The report states that the city has more than enough vacant off-street parking spots to accommodate Valley First employees without displacing other motorists and that the city’s parking fund is in solid financial shape. Bridegroom said the economic impact of having as many as 100 Valley First employees eating and shopping downtown will more than make up for the lost parking fees. He said the proposal also is important because it keeps Valley First in Modesto.

Barrett said the average pay for a Valley First administrative office employee is $45,000.

The city is calling its Valley First proposal a pilot program. It comes as the city and the Downtown Modesto Partnership finish a parking management plan, which could come to the council in several months.

The city now charges for its least desirable parking – its parking garages and lots – while not charging for prime street parking, which often is used by employees of downtown businesses. The plan is expected to address that by reducing or eliminating the charges for the parking garages and lots while charging for prime street parking.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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