The Newport Mall has raised parking fees for the second time in under 12 months, a possible violation of a city law.
Mayor Glenn Cunningham said last week that an ordinance requires the mall to consult the city on such increases. Failure to do so may cost the management company a fine of up to $1,000 per day, Cunningham said.
Since Jan. 1, the rates for parking less than an hour stayed at 50 cents; for one to two hours increased from $1.50 to $2.25; for two to four hours increased from $2.25 to $3.75; for four to five hours increased from $7 to $10, and for five to 24 hours increased from $20 to $22.
The garages are used both by mall shoppers and by commuters to New York. The mall shoppers generally stay only a few hours.
Cunningham wrote to the management company on Jan. 4 and requested to meet with mall management to discuss the issue. "It is my contention that such an increase in parking rates will have a definite impact upon the city, its residents and others who visit the mall to shop," Cunningham's letter stated. "Decisions of such impact must be made only when the city caretakers have a voice in such."
"The mayor's letter was received by us and that's being reviewed and handled corporately," said Carl Reggie, a director of marketing for Simon Management.
City officials said the increase was an untimely financial burden to place on shoppers during an economic recession. "I personally am going to boycott it until something is worked out," Councilwoman Mary Donnelly said at the council caucus meeting on Monday. Council President L. Harvey Smith said that some action must be taken, and noted that a boycott might be an option.
Cunningham said that he would like the mall to come up with a validated parking system that would allow people to park for free up to the first two hours. "I think we can reach an agreement without boycotting," he said.
Although most shopping malls in New Jersey do not have any fees associated with their parking lots, Newport Center is different because it is in an urban area with lots of commuters, said John Hedge, the general manager of the private company that manages the parking lot, Denison Parking Inc. "What people don't realize," Hedge said, "is that this is an urban mall. If we did not charge commuters, then the people who want to run into Sears and purchase something quickly would have to park in an inconvenient space."
Hedge compared the location of Newport Mall to an area in Manhattan where parking could often costs $20 per hour.
Hedge said the decision to raise parking fees was not made by his company, but a directive from Simon Management, the company that runs the mall. Simon Management would not confirm that they were responsible for raising the fees.
"The biggest complaints we are getting are from non-mall visitors," Hedge said. Most of the shoppers, Hedge said, leave the mall within four hours and have to pay $3.75 at most. The commuters, who park at Newport before taking public transportation into Manhattan, are the are subject to the higher fees and are the ones that are complaining about the increases, according to Hedge.
"Three percent of the people are causing 95 percent of the noise," he said.
The parking increases also are necessary to pay for the maintenance and overhead for the three-deck parking garage with 3,650 spaces, according to Hedge. The surface parking found in suburban malls does not cost as much to maintain, he said. He also noted that improvements on the garage, such as a new $400,00 operating system for the tollbooths, needed to be funded.
"We went through the same thing last year," Hedge said, referring to the former increases. "By the end of the month, the whole thing is forgotten."
But many local shoppers exiting the mall on their way to the parking lot tended to side with the noisemakers.
"It's ridiculous," said Stuartlyn Pigott, a Jersey City resident. "There's no other mall in Jersey that you have to pay for parking, much less this rate." She said that the rise in parking fees will cause her to shop elsewhere or find parking on the street in the nearby area.
Some shoppers did not seem to be affected, though. When asked about the rise in parking fees, a man from Kearny who just finished shopping at the mall for the first time said that he did not realize he would have to pay when he left the garage. But when told that his two-hour shopping venture would set him back $2.25, he shrugged his shoulders and replied, "That's not too bad."
Aside from customers, businesses are concerned too. One store owner feared that the increases would send potential customers elsewhere. "This will be a factor where people shop," he said. "Especially in bad times, like the economy is in now."