by Andrew Sachs, MFA, CAPP
Stepping Up to the Plate
Downtown Baltimore’s Harbor Park Garage took community engagement to a new level, feeding the community during the coronavirus crisis
In the spring of 2020, Baltimore, Maryland – and the world – was shaken by the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled, non-essential employees worked from home, and restaurants were forced to shut their doors.
At Harbor Park Garage, a typically bustling garage located near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, as traffic slowed to a trickle, our staff kicked into high gear. In addition to taking steps to keep customers and staff safe and healthy, we started thinking about what we could do to help members of our community hit hardest by the virus.
Heart of the Park
First, we reached out to regular parkers who rely on tips for income, meeting with them individually to offer discounts and support. But we wanted to do more.
That’s when Heart of the Park was born—a partnership between the garage and Pierpoint Restaurant, a 20-year old Baltimore institution known for its excellent food.
Our team worked with Pierpoint chef/owner Nancy Longo to figure out a way to inexpensively make high-quality meals. Together, we provide meals to 200 people in need each day. The meals are distributed at the garage; people simply need to show up to receive a free lunch and dinner to heat at home.
Garage as Gateway
Heart of the Park was inspired by specific needs that came about due to coronavirus, but the initiative is in keeping with Harbor Park’s longstanding philosophy that a parking garage can and should be more than an anonymous repository for cars.
Our garage is a gateway between home and work, dinner out, and other adventures. A happy garage experience—one that puts a smile on the guest’s face—can make any of those activities feel more fun.
Though guests weren’t on their way to the office or to restaurants during the coronavirus crisis, Heart of the Park still helped us generate some smiles—when we needed them more than ever.
Manager as Ambassador
Interacting with the community through Heart of the Park also solidified our belief that while counting parking spaces is an essential part of our job, it’s not the whole job. Our managers also excel at being community ambassadors.
To foster relationships, Harbor Park managers prioritize engagement with people parking in the garage and with nearby businesses. We regularly dine at local restaurants, pop into shops and attractions, and get to know the people who run them (whether or not they are official garage partners). Those visits were put on pause during coronavirus closures, but thanks to Heart of the Park, we were able to deepen our connection with both old friends and new.
The Benefits of Giving Back
The community management approach has opened up many opportunities over the past few years that have, in total, had a significant effect on the garage’s revenue. Likewise, the Heart of the Park initiative has already translated into some tangible benefits for Harbor Park as a business, with an increase in social media followers, high engagement with posts, and coverage by local press outlets.
But even more importantly, it helped all of us at Harbor Park do something to help the people in our community stay afloat. The outpouring of thanks we received was incredibly gratifying for all of our employees and reminded us why we’re proud to be a part of the Baltimore community.
Andrew Sachs, MFA, CAPP is the President of Harbor Park Garage.