Really no parking in downtown Naperville during events? Data tells the real story
When issues arise about downtown parking during events in Naperville, the evidence is typically anecdotal.
While business owners can provide real data about sales, much of the conversation is colored by stories of shoppers struggling to find a spot.
Concerns raised this spring by downtown business owners about Christkindlmarket at Naper Settlement prompted the city to review downtown parking data in connection with special events, said Marcie Schatz, deputy city manager.
The analysis looks at roughly 1,500 spaces in the Central, Van Buren and Water Street decks, tracked by electronic counters that provide availability data to the public. It compares parking on the day or days of each special event during the past two years to what parking would have been at the same day of the week and time under comparable weather, if not for the event.
Some top findings:
• Walk MS: Naperville causes the largest spike in downtown parking. It adds 40 percent more parked vehicles than usually would be in the garages on a Sunday morning in May. This occurs despite the fact organizers say they encourage participants to use parking lots at Centennial Beach near the Riverwalk or the Judd Kendall VFW on Jackson Avenue.
• The Healthy Drive Naperville Half Marathon and 5K -- beginning at 7 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 21 -- has the third-highest parking impact, adding 27 percent more cars to downtown garages than typically would park there early on an October Sunday morning.
• During Ribfest, 4.3 percent fewer people than usual park in the three downtown garages, which City Clerk Pam Gallahue said is because organizers provide so many remote lots with shuttles.
• Christkindlmarket causes a 10 percent increase in downtown parking garage use, compared with typical use throughout the event's duration. But the market lasts roughly 20 days -- all of them at the height of the holiday shopping season.
The parking and event data already has helped avoid a conflict for next year. When the Healthy Driven Half Marathon and another event both were proposed for the same day, Gallahue said she asked the race to switch dates to avoid a major parking crunch.
Race Director Dave Sheble said although the race brings several thousand runners and spectators to the downtown, its early Sunday timing means they're stealing parking spots from fallen leaves, not from shoppers or diners.
"The amount of parking spaces that are there and the amount of people who use them -- and then free them back up again -- seems to work," Sheble said.
But Christkindlmarket remains at the heart of the purpose for the parking study, and it's around the corner.
This will be the third year for the festival under a three-year contract between the Naper Settlement and operator German American Events. The market drew an estimated 245,000 shoppers last year.
In its parking and event analysis, the city found the festival's effect to be "minimal on an already busy time of the year," Gallahue said.
Although it created a 10 percent bump in garage use, Christkindlmarket produced no discernible decrease in downtown food and beverage sales, according to city data. In fact, Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, said restaurants and on-the-go eateries saw a benefit.
Wood said some retailers saw new customers as well, but others suffered losses.
"When you look at even a 10 percent increase in parking demand at an already busy time, over 21 days, it can be a challenge," she said.
Rena Tamayo-Calabrese, president and CEO of the Naper Settlement, called the Christkindlmarket parking issue "a non-starter." But she said the museum is taking several steps with the city and the downtown alliance to entice festival shoppers to become downtown shoppers as well.
The city is illuminating the bridge over the DuPage River at Webster Street, which connects people on foot to the heart of the downtown. And the settlement is handing out downtown maps and adding signs directing people toward the central business district.
To ease parking, the settlement is encouraging offices on Washington Street south of the downtown to allow parking during Christkindlmarket, and partnering with shuttle provider Tuk Tuk Naperville to create routes from spaces at Centennial Beach to the event.
A survey of Christkindlmarket attendees found 61 percent who visited from outside Naperville shopped at the market, then left.
"Hopefully, with more encouragement," Wood said, "we can get those folks to stay and experience all that our downtown businesses have to offer."