Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cowboy Slim's Plus-sized Parking Costs - Does it Matter?

I see that CARAG is in the process of submitting a letter to the City opposing Cowboy Slim’s “exorbitant” $9 parking fee. Cowboy Slim’s is the Old West saloon-themed restaurant opening soon in Campiello’s old space. And while I wasn’t at their meeting, I can guess the gist of the conversation; undoubtedly residents fear that if parking is too expensive then people will instead simply park on “their” streets.

I agree that $9 for parking is a lot. I’m sure many people won’t be willing to shell out that kind of money. I know I wouldn’t, at least not just for dinner at an Uptown restaurant (of course I’d just walk to begin with, but that’s besides the point). That said, I don’t have a problem with them charging whatever they feel is appropriate.

I don’t think many people will park in the neighborhoods. For one thing, the streets closest to Cowboy Slim’s have permit-only parking restrictions. Yes, a few ambitious people will walk a few extra blocks to get free street parking, but I think many others will simply park in the newly expanded Calhoun Square garage. This is a good thing. It means that these customers will park, walk through Calhoun Square and from there along the street. They’ll pass other retail stores, and will perhaps be tempted to extend their dinner into a bigger evening out. That translates into dollars for Uptown, dollars that provide our local businesses with the money they need to survive and thrive in tough times.

I would also like to think that many of Cowboy Slim’s customers will come from the neighborhood and will therefore be walking (or possibly biking). Uptown is, of course, a regional destination, and I’m sure that a large percentage of diners will indeed come from elsewhere. Many of them will drive. That’s a fact of life in Uptown, and realistically dealing with a tight parking situation comes with the territory. It’s all part of the larger trade-off for living in an urban neighborhood with lots of offerings.

In many ways this is yet another reason to argue for the Uptown light rail route; quick efficient train transportation means that people from the southwest suburbs can park (or walk to) their local station, then just take the train to Uptown and not deal with parking at all. There will always be some people who refuse to give up the car, but there are plenty of others who will be more than happy to go with free or cheap parking near home coupled with a quick (and entertaining, to some extent, as Minnesotans get used to the novelty of FINALLY having the beginnings of an actual rail network of their own) transportation into the heart of Uptown for a fun night out.

Cowboy Slim’s is the target of this particular CARAG complaint, but the reality is that they are simply the victim of the larger Uptown parking wars. Now if they would just add some hitching posts maybe all those would-be cowboys could just ride their horses in on the Greenway…


  1. This seems totally fair to me. Free parking does not make life easier in Uptown. I think in addition to charging more for parking on the streets. Variable parking rates should be initiated on Uptown and Downtown streets.

  2. With Calhoun Square's parking ramp reopening for the general public to park again w/o valet, a lot of parking is going to become available. My understanding is that rates are going to remain the same.

    Plus, you can park at Sons of Norway in the evenings and on the weekends for $5. All the Cowboy Slims parking lot is doing is taking advantage of a (potential) market for parking in a central location. If the market isn't there, they may drop the cost.

    Ultimately, if most of its parking and other off-street public parking fills up, the price point shouldn't matter a whole lot, as the supply wouldn't be able to fulfill the demand.

  3. Clarification: Cowboy Slims owners/operators to not manage nor lease the adjacent parking lot. That is maintained by the company they lease their building from.

  4. You seem to have a lot of contempt for the CARAG neighborhood association. But you make almost the same argument that you imagine they made at their meeting: that $9 does seem like a lot of money for parking for dinner and that people are likely to want to park elsewhere. Leave the contempt for something worth getting upset about.

  5. I don't have contempt for the CARAG neighborhood association, although I do have problems with many of their positions. It's dominated by special interests, and many of its positions do not resonate with less active neighborhood residents. Board members with a more holistic view of the neighborhood unfortunately tend to burn out and drop off, and the lack of true representation does not seem to be fully acknowledeged as an area that could use improvement. As for parking, I agree that people will probably park elsewhere; the difference in our positions is that I don't care where they park. I think people who choose to live within close walking distance to the commercial core of Uptown have no business complaining when people park on their street. If this were a one-time complaint it would be one thing, but some CARAG residents and activists are preoccupied with "their" parking spots seemingly at the expense of all else. Uptown -- and CARAG -- is an urban neighborhood, and these residents knew that when they moved here. I believe the obsession with parking is an important issue, and the parking preoccupation comes at the expense of making CARAG a vibrant, livable (for people, not cars) city neighborhood.