Years ago, we moved to Oregon to rid our lives of the ‘traffic-jammedness’ of city life – anyone who has ever lived in an urban area knows the feeling – you reach a point where you just know you must escape or you risk losing part of your very being. And for someone from nomadic stock, as I was, it became essential. It was a wonderful move!
But one of the things we miss about living in a city are all the live arts happenings – so this past year, Sandee and I decided we’d take ourselves more regularly into Eugene -the closest thing to a real city within 2 hours – and take advantage of their arts scene.
Now Eugene is not much of a city, size wise (little over 150,000 pop), but they do have a lively arts scene, much of which centers around the university (UofO). They also have The Hult Center for the Performing Arts, which surprisingly draws some top touring talent. I laugh when I hear Eugene folks complaining about the ‘traffic’ – trust me, Eugene has NO traffic problems. Parking problems are a different matter!
I have a soft spot in my heart for city administrators and their problems – in a past life, I came very close to the subject of city management as for several years some of my college profs were city managers (one of my degrees is in Public Administration). Listening to their sad tales, and their oft repeated warnings never to consider a career in city management, I wisely avoided ever working for a bunch of elected politicians. But I also got a good sensitivity for how difficult it is for a local government to find the necessary funds to make things work properly – and parking fees often play a far more important role in the puzzle than the public ever realizes.
Now, city managers are between a rock and a hard place on the subject of parking fees – after all, they can only consider them where there is something of interest for the general public – like downtown shopping, or a university campus with almost no campus parking availability. Do you suppose local downtown business owners like the idea of charging their customers parking fees? (how many shopping malls that you know of charge parking fees?) Do you suppose downtown business owners would consider running for city council so they might assist in making some of these parking fee decisions? See my point?
As a patron of the Eugene arts scene during the past year, I’ve paid my share of parking fees – but I’ve also been sensitized to that rock and a hard place that the city manager must balance between, but I don’t think that means you just mindlessly pay without thinking - I’ve begun to learn how to play the system (I’m not a rich man) – and if you’ll allow me, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve been learning with you today.
First, there are several rules which determine how well you’ll be able to avoid parking fees in Eugene – let’s look at those.
- Rule 1: Location, Location, Location- If you want to park a block off the UofO campus, you’ll pay $1.75 per hour – that adds up quickly. If you park in the convenient next door parking garage to The Hult for a performance, you’ll pay a $5 fee. If you decide to stay at the Hilton while in town, know that they now charge a hefty $15 a night for the pleasure. The closer you wish to be to your venue, the more you’ll pay for parking in their parking garage – nothing earth shattering about that fact – but how do you avoid it? Well you could move away from your venue a bit, until you find street parking without meters, but sometimes this option is not workable. In that case, see the next rule.
- Rule 2: Timing is Everything- In that fine balance the city manager must strive for, there are prime times and non-prime times. And of course, those prime times are precisely the times when parking fees are in force – all of this has been carefully planned to take full advantage – but there are some interesting exceptions too – you just have to know about them.
- Rule 3: The More You Know, the Less You Pay- Or, the more mistakes you make, the wiser you become. After a year of paying all those parking fees, I now know how -at least minimally- to avoid them.
OK, let’s get to the meat – let’s say you want to visit the Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum, which is on the UofO campus – wonderful museum, but how is one to get to it? Even if you were willing to pay big bucks to park in a museum parking lot, there is no museum parking lot! The closest parking is just off campus on the street (at $1.75 an hour), and I don’t consider that a viable option. What to do? Best option is to move away from the campus itself -into the residential areas surrounding- and search out no-meter street parking. But you soon discover that such parking spots are relatively rare – they all seem to be used – and then there’s the long walk back to the museum – and for Sandee and her bad knees, that’s not even do-able.
Answer? Timing. Weekend downtown parking is completely free – garages, street, and most interestingly, most of the conscription lots all around and on the UofO campus (one important caveat – read the meter or small sign at the head of each space – there are some spaces which never free up, while all others are up for grabs each weekend – and after 6pm each night too). There is a very large lot on the corner of Alder and 14th Streets which very conveniently makes the walk to the museum quite a short one – and I’ve yet to see it completely filled on the weekend.
If you want to (or need to) get really close to the museum, simply drive into the campus on one of the limited access streets on the campus, and park in one of the lots usually reserved for university staff during the week – you’ll find most spots available (and strangely open!) on weekends and nights – I did not discover this fact on my own, but from a very friendly, and helpful, campus policeman.
Most of the concerts at the on-campus Beall Hall occur at night, and it’s a little weird to discover that few of the many attendees apparently don’t know about the parking availability at the north end of Beall, choosing instead to park on the nearby streets and take the longer walk in. Careful though; some of those spots are the ‘At No Time’ variety – Read the signs carefully.
How about a few other potential traps? If you’re going to the Hult Center for a concert, know that although the parking garage next door to the Hult is city owned and operated (and that the city owned parking garages DO NOT charge after 6pm), there is usually a $5 parking fee during each Hult performance – but there’s a way to avoid it. If you drive into the garage after 6pm, but no later than 7pm, you will not be charged to park there. But the Hult doles out a bit of punishment for those who try this trick – the doors from the parking garage into the Hult Center itself will not open until 7pm sharp – forcing those who use this trick to either stand and wait at the door until 7pm, or they might simply walk around to the front door of the Hult for entrance prior to 7.
Yeah, dumb. Don’t get me started on the Hult!
And here’s my last way to avoid downtown Eugene parking fees. We have chosen to always do a one or two night stay when we come to Eugene for our adventures – and we often use Priceline to get our hotel rooms. I have the use of Priceline down to a science – here’s my not-so-secret formula for Eugene.
I will only use Priceline’s ‘Name Your Own Price’ option for this, and I will only bid Priceline’s 3 star level – currently in Eugene there are only 2, 3 star hotels that choose to use Priceline’s Name Your Own Price, and they are both quite acceptable. One (Valley River Inn) has no parking charge – the other (The Hilton) charges $15 a night for parking in its subterranean garage. So, you know going in that if your bid is successful, you’ll get either of these hotels.
I won’t bid any lower Priceline bid star level simply because it’s then a crap-shoot – there are too many nasty motels that list on Priceline on the lower levels. And I won’t bid any higher than $45-$47 a night, and I often win at that level. The reason why I won’t bid any higher is that when you add Priceline’s cut (about $8, depending on your bid), you are getting very close to the cost of an acceptable 2 star motel, which is not much less comfortable than either of the 3 star choices. We like The Timbers Motel downtown, when we don’t get accepted for Priceline – a very nice motel, and very comfortable – usually available for about $60 a night – and free parking right in the heart of downtown.
So, what do we do if we get a Priceline acceptance for the downtown Hilton? Well, we don’t accept their option of parking for $15 a night – we opt out and park next door at the city’s parking garage at no cost. And if it’s on the weekend, again, no cost all day – and if during the week, we can choose to exit the garage at 8am for the day, or just go ahead and pay the $6 full day rate – a lot better than $15 next door!
Now, some may say, “What about security?” OK, here’s my answer – I had a most interesting conversation with a guy from the Eugene City Hall parking department regarding several questions I had – at first, I expected he’d be resistant to my suggested overnight parking in the city garage, but, No – in fact, he seemed sympathetic to my efforts to find an alternative to The Hilton’s parking charge – and in anticipation to my upcoming question about security, he even volunteered that each city garage had overnight security patrols. I doubt those ‘patrols’ are there to guard the few cars parking overnight, but hey, after paying The Hilton $15 for overnight parking, the first thing you read upon entering their garage is a huge sign that says The Hilton accepts no responsibility for any vandalism or theft from your car while parked there. All things considered, I’ll take the city garage, thank you.
I hope this post provided some help for those who may be like us and need a little relief from what seems like a constantly increasing level of living’s daily cost.
Be well, all.