Responding to visitor criticism

in Community by

By Mayor Billy Keyserling

Here is an email I received on Monday morning November 1:
“Visited your city last Tuesday and received a parking ticket for an expired meter. My fault. I don’t understand how you can promote tourism for your downtown area and not provide free public parking. This is nothing but a money grab run by a private company for the city. Talking with some of the business owners they are not happy with the situation. I’ll never visit your city again and will spread the news. John D Cespedes”

My Response on Monday afternoon, November 1:
Dear Mr. Cespedes:
Thanks for your kind and thoughtful note.
I am glad you had an opportunity to visit beautiful Beaufort and am sorry our value proposition of fine shops, excellent restaurants, our world class waterfront park, the open vistas throughout our city, the ancient moss draped oaks and history whichever way you turn, is not worth giving up a little something.
“Giving a Little Something” has nothing to do with city revenue, since parking revenues are invested — through Main Street Beaufort and our City Redevelopment Commission —  directly into downtown improvements for the people who live here and those who visit and for marketing our special downtown. Fees do not go into the city operations budget.
The reason Beaufort has had paid parking since the 1930’s is because the merchants asked for it. Unfortunately, it takes parking fees and fines to prevent all day parking by some downtown merchants and their employees who, up until we started the current system, were  dominating parking thereby making it nearly impossible for locals and visitors to find spaces.
The good news, for the merchants, residents and visitors, is that we can now find spaces to park in the greater downtown area.
Ironically, in this sense, it appears that what bothered you actually made parking more available to you and others.
The City’s Civic Investment Plan calls for a parking deck, with perhaps lower or no fees. But, a $5 million plus investment out of a $14 million annual budget for a city of only 12,000 moderate to low income people, half of whom rent, is not likely in the foreseeable future when the private sector engages as a partner in this lofty ideal.
When I recently received a ticket for an expired meter and paid it knowing I too was wrong, I realized that it is not a bad thing because the reason for meters and fines creating better access to downtown stores and restaurants.  We have suggested to the merchants who have complained that they provide parking tokens to their customers and we agreed to work with them on a program to do so whereby they could purchase tokens at a discounted rate. As of yet, none have stepped to the plate.
And finally, you should know — notwithstanding the few who are not in the majority — the current system with modifications was developed and recommended by the downtown merchants.  And that using the outside vendor, as opposed to police officers managing parking, saves the city money, and even more importantly ensures police officers remain focused on the public’s greater safety.
Again, I am glad you came to Beaufort, sorry you got the ticket and hope that once you cool off you will reconsider.  Should that happen and you give me adequate notice, I will be happy to take you to lunch downtown and personally foot your parking tab.  The value is great.
Beaufort is a very special place and we do the best we can, as a small city, to make it even better. We market our city to tourists and those considering relocating to the area because we believe we have something of great value to share. We are grateful that visitors shop, dine and often use overnight accommodations. Some just sit in the park and watch the boats passing. And we are happy to be able to provide the hospitality.
By chance, when you visited, were you able to see the fantastic Robert Smalls and Beaufort Infantry exhibits at Historic Beaufort Foundation’s Verdier House on Bay Street, attend the nationally acclaimed Gary Sinese Band’s Wounded Warrior Benefit Concert, attend the regionally renowned Shrimp Festival or visit some of the most unique art galleries in the region? Or stop by the Bay Street Outfitters, take one of its renowned guided fly fishing tours, see the Metropolitan Opera or Swan Lake at the USCB Arts Center, partake in the  Historic Beaufort Annual Tour of Homes, attend the some of the many activities at ARTworks, enjoy high tea at the Beaufort Inn or simply take time to sit on a swing and enjoy the southern breezes and vistas from the bluff (no parking fees on the bluff) or the serenity of the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park when you were here? Or did you visit some of our historic homes, churches and graveyards, some of which are centuries old. Or take a class at USCB’s Osher Life Long Learning Center or The Technical College of the Lowcountry. I hope you did not need the services of our exceptional Hospital which, through a partnership with Duke University, has the best heart and cancer care facilities and programs in the Southeast.
I certainly hope you had the time and interest to take in some of our exceptional offerings, meet some of our friendly and welcoming citizens and will, once you cool off, tell others as our community works hard to foster and promote these types of activities for those who live in and visit the best hometown in the world.
Thanks for taking the time to visit and to share your thoughts.
Best
Billy K