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Joe Downtown: As the neighborhood becomes more popular, parking becomes an issue

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Lot of possibilities: The ultra-popular “Tony’s Lot” actually belongs to a doctor—and may not be available much longer.
Photo: Leila Navidi

It’s understandable that they call the gravel parking lot at Ogden Avenue and Sixth Street “Tony’s Lot.” Zappos CEO and Downtown Las Vegas investor Tony Hsieh lives in the Ogden across the street, and, generally, he’s seen as a Downtown benefactor. So it’s not beyond the pale that he would allow people to park for free on one of his empty lots.

Except that it’s not his lot. It belongs to Alonzo Williams Sr., a 62-year-old medical doctor from Little Rock, Ark. Does the good doctor like what’s happening on his piece of property, which is a little more than half an acre in size? Well, if he took a look, he’d see how everyone from construction workers to late-night partiers and street performers park there. For free. Unfortunately, some of them use it as if it’s their own.

Fresh beer-bottle glass sprouts like weeds each week. Garbage is shoved under anything that can cover it. Cars get scratched and gouged. Empty cardboard beer cases lie in heaps after a First Friday night.

I and others have been hemmed in there, surrounded on all sides by cars and unable to move. But I’ve never gotten a ticket in that lot. And that’s a benefit, because my car’s tough; my wallet, not so much.

So I keep parking there, certain this will end as soon as the good doctor catches wind of what’s going on and fears for his legal skin should someone get shot, killed, run over, alcohol poisoned or become the victim of some other emotional malfunction while in his lot. (Disclosure: We called his legal representative and his office and are awaiting a response.)

When Williams’ lot is fenced off, that will leave city parking lots or private parking. Private parking fees have been jacked up recently. City parking meters are cheaper, but I’m loath to give Parking Enforcement a penny for the number of times I’ve been ticketed for being a few minutes over on a meter.

Over the years, I’ve only heard one politician address parking woes. Mayoral candidate George Harris promised to be on the street with a chainsaw the day after being elected to cut the meters down. But he didn’t win. Carolyn Goodman’s answer to parking problems was to hire a very expensive consultant who decided the city will install credit card-friendly meters—easier to use, probably easier for meter maids to monitor but no easier on the pocketbooks of everyday schmoes like me.

More and more, people tell me to quit complaining because parking is pretty cheap Downtown. I tell them that misses the point: Las Vegans have grown used to free parking, and I’ve lived here long enough to call myself a Las Vegan.

Downtown businesses used to be on my side. Parking fees and tickets were hurting business, they said, but I don’t hear that so much anymore now that Fremont East’s economy is on the rise. Good for them. Bad for me.

Still, I may have found a silver lining in all of this. Parking woes on Fremont East are pushing potential customers to explore other parts of Downtown.

The Arts District is also catching a bit of fire, and without the aid of a major online retailer. The hub of that activity consists of two places—the Arts Factory, with its Bar & Bistro, and the Artifice bar—and right next door to them is a massive lot with no parking fees.

From there, it’s but a short walk to the Velveteen Rabbit, a new bar on Main Street that offers signature drinks that are cheaper and come with no pretension. My prediction: Another place or two like the Rabbit, plus a coffee shop, and that area is going to explode in popularity.

The biggest benefactor, though, might be the Downtown Project, which is funding a for-fee bicycle and electric car ride-share program throughout Las Vegas. Sick of parking Downtown but live close enough to one of those bikes? Rent one and pedal away.

I’ll get in shape, plus I’ll never give Parking Enforcement another dime, a priceless thought. And never again will I have to risk parking in Tony’s—I mean, the good doctor’s—lot.

Joe Shoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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