Biddeford City Council members voted in favor of making a stabilization payment of $191,246 last Tuesday to Premium Parking, the company that manages the Pearl Street garage. The garage, which broke ground on Sept. 15, 2020, between Pearl Street and Lincoln Street in downtown Biddeford and opened the following July, promised as many jobs as it did parking spots to rapidly-growing Biddeford – about 640 of each. The previous year, Biddeford was named the youngest city in Maine, with a median age of 35. It continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the state and the rational for the garage by Mayor Alan Casavant and others was that building the garage would spark further growth.

The mood at last week’s city council meeting, however, was far from optimistic. “The upshot is out in this community,” said Martin Grohman, councilor from Ward 3, “people don’t want to park in this garage, they won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole … it’s the core issue I think we’re having where we’re not hitting our revenue goals.”

Casavant agreed. “The problem is that when you get tagged with a $50 ticket that spreads ill-will and the ill-will creates a domino effect throughout the community because somebody says, ‘I just got a ticket, I can’t believe how much it was it was 50 bucks’ and so all of a sudden you have a disinterest in terms of anyone else parking there if they hear that story.”

Hence the hefty stabilization payment to make up the difference between nearly $265,000 in actual revenue this period from the garage and the revenue guaranteed by the Town of Biddeford’s contract with Premium Parking, the company contracted to manage it – plus a steep operating cost.

Grohman and Casavant’s concerns were prompted by a presentation for the council given by Tom O’Shaughnessy, head of Amber Infrastructure U.S. Amber is an international company that contracted with the city of Biddeford in 2021 to build both the Pearl Street garage and part of the RiverWalk project. They in turn chose Premium Parking to manage the garage.

Although O’Shaughnessy’s slides cited a citation rate of less than 1% as evidence for the relatively good compliance of parkers in the Pearl Street garage, council members felt that the garage’s low revenue spoke volumes about the actual experience of users.


“I’ve just heard from constituent after constituent when you could have hypothetically paid $5 and you don’t have a smartphone, and you get this nasty letter for $105,” Grohman said, “I just think that’s what we’ve got to get into tonight, I think Premium should be reasonably incentivized to make this system easy to use.”

Multiple other council members expressed their disappointment that Premium Parking did not send a representative in person to field questions at the meeting.

“We’ve got to get our arms around the fact that there are plenty of people who don’t have smartphones or who don’t feel comfortable using them and these enforcement approaches are just draconian,” Grohman said, “I mean it’s out of hand. I think we’ve got to change the way we’re looking at that and be much more positive and welcoming around the parking experience overall.”

Construction of the garage was funded in part by a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which covered 50% of the total project cost. The remaining funds were supplied primarily by a TIF, or Tax Increment Financing. Stabilization costs for the garage are currently being funded by a TIF as well.

While city council members ultimately voted five to three to approve the stabilization payment (number four since the garage’s opening), they also approved an additional order for the city manager to present a “report on the feasibility and financial impact of retuning operational control of the surface parking lots to the city.” Councilors Marc Lessard, Bob Mills, and Grohman voted to oppose the payment.

The council also made a verbal resolution to review other garage management companies at their first meeting in January.

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