Parking, COVID, and Universities

University ParkingBy David M. Feehan

I have spent the last couple of years working to strengthen a business district organization in Dinkytown, the district adjacent to the main campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. This historic district is the place where Bob Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minn., got his start as a folk singer and changed his name to Bob Dylan.

As with any major university (and this is one of the largest in the U.S.) parking is always an issue. Student parking, staff and faculty parking, visitor and customer parking all must be managed and managed well, or chaos ensues.

Now, however, the university and surrounding areas must deal with a new and unexpected problem: no cars. A decision has not yet been made, but the fall semester may be conducted mostly online; there may be no football season; and most businesses are either closed or in limited operating mode.

So obviously, this presents the university, the city, and private businesses with a whole host of problems. One is obviously the loss of revenue. Football games are a tremendous source of revenue for the university, and parking revenue on game days is substantial. Football season for the business district is like Christmas for shopping centers. Local restaurants and bars can do half of their annual sales during the football season. But loss of customers does not mean expenses go away. Lots and garages still have to maintained, utilities stall have to be paid, and employees are still on the payroll unless furloughed.

Parking for students is another issue. Many students may elect to live at home with parents if classes are online. This represents additional revenue loss for the university. It also means lost revenue for the city, as on-street parking serves commuting students as well as restaurant and shop customers.

How long will the crisis last and what will be the lasting impact on parking? Will, for example, students who drive to campus opt for public transportation or purchase bikes? Will carpooling become more popular? Will more student housing be built so students can walk to campus? There are so many things we don’t know right now. But the “new normal” is upon us, and if you manage university parking or parking near a university, now is the time to get your plan in place.

David M. Feehan is president of Civitas Consultants, LLC.