Have you been to downtown Battle Creek lately? There is a large construction and revitalization project occurring, with major construction on the West end of Michigan Avenue. A new sewer drainage system is going in, along with a new streetscape. This is a wonderful project, and will certainly make downtown very beautiful and inviting.
However there is a secret killer of downtown that has gone on unnoticed by local people for decades. What is this killer, you might ask? It is the Battle Creek City enforcement of a penalty system for parking through AMPCO parking systems. There I said it. AMPCO Parking Systems has killed downtown Battle Creek, Michigan.
I have watched this serious problem become a cancer that has silently killed the downtown retail and restaurant businesses for over the past decade. It has been going on longer than that. Let’s run this back to where it all began, and it is hard to find the origin, as so many people that created this system are now gone.
Essentially what I have been able to find out from talking to City Commissioners all week is that the system was put in place to penalize employees for parking close to the businesses, and therefore the city decided to sell permitted spots to the employees, and make free parking on the street and parking areas with either a two or three hour parking limit, depending on which section of town. That is the origin of how this system all started.
What has been the result? An empty downtown is the simple answer. How can the two be related you might ask?
To begin, one cannot approach the problem from the viewpoint of a city official, or a police department, or even a struggling business owner. One can only solve the problem by assuming the viewpoint of the shopper, diner and consumer of any other types of goods that might be sold in the district. Doing this, one can begin to shed light on the problem, and it opens the door to a solution.
If a friend from out of town drops in on you during a business week, or you arrange lunch with a client to discuss a business proposal, are you really concerned about time? In some cases you might have a tight schedule, but in most cases you would block out as much time for that individual as possible to get the result you seek: understanding.
Whatever it is you are trying to understand or arrive at an understanding of, you are certainly not so concerned with time. Is it possible that such a lunch would go over two hours? It is very likely is it not? Old friends who have not seen each other in ages have been known to have ‘power lunches’ that can go on over two hours. Business lunches can also extend as far, especially if great ideas are in development. Think about that for a moment, and then think about this: do you really want to risk a parking ticket for exceeding 2 or 3 hours while you were enjoying yourself? So that alone might be a deterrent in selecting a restaurant.
Additionally, if you or your friend or client walked out of that restaurant and had a ticket on the windshield, would it endear you to repeating such a lunch? Probably not, right?
Then consider this, if you see a good movie, are you likely to tell someone else about it? I know I do. What about if you see a bad one?
Let’s say you are at the office cooler and hear a friend mention they were going to go see that film you know it horrible, you might be likely to caution them on going to see that one and may even suggest another one that is better, wouldn’t you?
So what happens when someone has a bad experience in a location, such as a downtown area where they received a ticket for exceeding the time limit for parking? Do you really think that it will not get mentioned to anyone else? That they will keep it a secret? If you are, you are a deluding yourself.
The system for AMPCO parking is a punishment system. It punishes people for going downtown. If enough people are
punished, it will kill an area. It is as simple as that. It is naïve to assume that one ticket has a disciplinary benefit to making someone comply the next time. The likelihood is that it will make them avoid the area where they were punished.
Just like when you never go back to a restaurant or business that treated you poorly, so is the impact of the hospitality of a downtown district that hands out parking tickets for stopping by.
It is delusional to assume that if one receives a ticket, they will be prompted into compliance, and return gleefully to the same location to possibly experience another. This thinking does not contemplate that receiving a ticket is punishment, and it creates anger, annoyance and frustration.
It also does not factor in the rule often used in sales is that ‘One bad customer experience will impact ten others, so give good service to everyone’. Yes, people talk and some people talk more than others, and they are always willing to relay bad experiences about any place.
Thus an area over time gets what is called colloquially as a ‘Bad reputation’. “Do not got there, they will ticket you” becomes the message. “I am not going anywhere where I have to watch my time…” “I am never going there again.”
So the shopper or restaurant frequenter goes where there is no resistance, and dines and shops at Lakeview Square Mall, or Harper Creek Village or anyone of the hundred other options to eat lunch at or shop at in the city where there is no penalty for being there.
So what happens to the businesses? They see a reduction in traffic of customers. The area creates a computation to resolve it in their mind of ‘No one is going downtown anymore… They all go to strip malls’. Really is that it?
If you look further you will see that strip malls do not punish you for being there, and limit how long you can shop or dine, or both! You do not have to have any attention on how long you parked when you go there!
The wrong solution was introduced to solve the problem, and downtown slowly dies. AMPCO Parking Systems has killed downtown Battle Creek, Michigan. Businesses struggle and they do not make it.
If they do make it, they deal with constant complaints from employees who receive tickets. Employees have to walk longer distances in cold weather and after their endurance runs out on that, they seek other employment. Business owners struggle with personnel.
The reputation of parking cuts even into the evening businesses, and the reputation of downtown has morphed into ‘Downtown is bad and unsafe’ etc. Stories of bad experiences become rumors after they are retold too many times, and it is all a messy black propaganda that spreads like poison, untraceable and seemingly without origin.
The origin in truth is: AMPCO Parking Systems has killed downtown Battle Creek, Michigan. Ticketing systems drive people away, and do not result in orderly compliance. Shoppers and diners will go where things are simple, not complicated.
So what can Battle Creek do about it? Residents can speak up and call their city commissioners. If they care about
downtown, they can demand that the system of ticketing be abolished. Let the downtown area recover. Parking is no longer a problem. Too many vacancies endure. Let the area rebuild under a free parking system.
If it becomes congested in a few years, we will celebrate! That is an easier problem to solve for an area than bringing it back from the dead. Selective parking meters along only limited areas in front of stores would be the next move, but only after traffic has again returned to downtown.
At that time with so many businesses downtown, a real merchants association can be formed to build unity and agreements on employee parking without again introducing a punishment system that repeats the cycle.
New expanded solutions for parking can be addressed, and all in a direction of ‘Welcome to Battle Creek’ in mind, rather than ‘Go away’ or ‘Stay too long and we will fine you’.