An easy way to get to the office Downtown: Starting today, a park and ride service will be operating from a 500-car lot on Ostend Street.

January 26, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

One of the biggest challenges of operating a business in downtown Baltimore is finding enough parking for employees. Doug Whitaker thinks he may have found a solution with a park and ride shuttle service that debuts today.

Door-to-Door Park and Ride is geared to downtown workers who don't want to pay up to $200 a month for parking, and for employees who are on waiting lists that are weeks and months long to try to get a spot in a garage, Whitaker said.

To kick off the venture, which is based at a 500-car parking lot on Ostend Street, Whitaker is offering one week of free service to 170 Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. workers who signed up for the pilot program.

Beginning Feb. 2, Legg Mason workers will then be charged the usual $5 a day or $100 a month. Two garages near the financial services company charge between $130 and $155 a month, a company official said. There is a 75-person list of employees waiting for access to those garages.

Only Legg Mason workers are using the shuttle service now, with Whitaker intending to branch out to other companies in the 27-story tower on Light Street and then to other businesses along the Charles Street corridor.

He has hired Frances Zeller, who started Harbor City Tours in May, as a subcontractor to use her two vehicles, which seat 37 people combined, to make the shuttle runs.

"I figure in 60 days Door-to-Door will be a complete success or a failure," Whitaker said. "If Baltimore has a true parking crisis, I'll know about it."

Whitaker's enterprise comes on the heels of a report released in September by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore that found parking in the area to be scarce and expensive.

To ease the problem for existing businesses, the Downtown Partnership recommended that the city create 1,500 more parking spaces in the next three to five years.

While the city as a whole has enough spaces, the downtown core is 3,600 spaces short, in part because office space was constructed at twice the rate of parking in the past decade, the report said.

Other solutions offered in the report included building a downtown parking garage, improving the city's mass transit system and creating a shuttle service.

Door-to-Door is "perfect timing," said Lisa Raimundo, the partnership's business and economic development manager. The group is an independent, nonprofit business development organization.

Raimundo said she has been approached by other entrepreneurs who have expressed interest in doing something similar.

What may work against the venture is its relatively remote location. The lot is on the opposite side of the city from most of the city's commuters. In fact, commuters from the north would drive past their workplace to get to the lot.

But Whitaker said the shuttle runs will take the same or less time than it takes workers to navigate the midmorning traffic snarls, park up to four blocks away and then walk back to their office.

It takes six to eight minutes for a shuttle to drive from the lot to the Legg Mason Tower on Light Street. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m, a shuttle will leave for the building every 10 minutes, Whitaker said.

And then there is a larger benefit, said Zeller of Harbor City Tours. "Workers who don't need their cars during the day and park a little away from downtown will free up parking spaces for tourists," she said. "It's good for the city."

Of course, some drivers may not like the open lot atmosphere.

"A garage may win over an open lot, especially in the wintertime when cars would be exposed to the elements," said Dave Baier, Legg Mason's payroll manager, who is coordinating the company's patronage of Door-to-Door.

The cost savings may mitigate that concern, he said.

Workers have the option of paying Door-to-Door's monthly parking fee by payroll deduction.

Whitaker has dedicated the Ostend Street parking lot to the Legg Mason commuters. He said he intends to acquire bits and pieces of property and assign them to other buildings downtown. "It's not feasible to make several downtown stops from one lot," he said.

It also may be out of his range to acquire much more land in the area near Camden Yards and the new football stadium. He's competing with the Maryland Stadium Authority, whose most recent action in the area was to lease the site of Tate Engineering Systems at West and Russell streets. The authority plans to convert the site into a 437-space parking lot.

Whitaker said the operating costs for his 4.3-acre site at 701 Ostend St. -- which also includes two buildings -- are about $18,000 a month. He also uses the lot during Orioles games and intends to use it during Ravens games.

A 6,000-square-foot building will serve as the headquarters for Door-to-Door and Harbor City Tours, and there are seven other rooms to lease out for offices, Whitaker said.

The other building, at 14,000 square feet, could become an entertainment complex or be demolished to make room for more cars, Whitaker said.

"If this works, I'm glad to be a part of the solution for the downtown parking problems," he said.

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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