SOUTH BEND – In the 10 years Debbie Guy has parked in the city-owned garage at Wayne and St. Joseph Streets, she hasn’t always felt safe. In fact, just a few years ago, some of her co-workers at Meridian Title Corporation started carrying pepper spray after several reports of people being mugged or attacked in and around the garage.
“They were concerned with people hanging out in the garage,” Guy said.
But those feelings, for the most part, have changed.
“I get here very early in the morning and I’m never afraid,” she added.
Statistics Downtown South Bend (DTSB) Executive Director Aaron Perri recently presented to the Redevelopment Commission information that shows why Guy isn’t the only one whose feelings about parking downtown are different than they were 9 months ago.
For 20 years, an outside company managed the three downtown garages – on the corners of Wayne & St. Joseph, Main & Colfax and Michigan & Jefferson, Perri said. DTSB took over that management in February.
A January DTSB survey of all parking garage customers compared with the same survey taken earlier this month shows overall satisfaction with the garages jumped about 25%. 45% of parking customers, according to the survey, felt cleanliness increased, 34% believe safety was up, 50% say professionalism was better and 35% saw an increase in hospitality.
Those results are proof, Perri said, that parking downtown is safer and cleaner now than it was 9 months ago.
Today, fresh paint near the elevators and stairwells, 100 new light bulbs throughout the three garages and new automated payment systems are among the dozens of upgrades and improvements that have already happened.
The automated systems freed up employees who now give safety escorts to and from cars, pick up trash in the garages and on the streets and give directions to people who need help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Those employees are easily identifiable, Perri said, because of the red DTSB shirts and khaki bottoms they’re required to wear.
“If you have a dead battery, they’ll come and jump your car. If you have a flat tire, they’ll come and help with that,” he added.
They are also trained on CPR and general First Aid practices and have two-way radios to easily communicate with other parking staff and South Bend Police.
Another upgrade includes the website DTSBparking.com, where people with questions about downtown parking can go to get information regarding which lots and garages they can use, how much it will cost and how to request a safety escort.
CLICK HERE for dtsbparking.com.
More people are using the garages, partially because the city has encouraged people who work in downtown businesses to use garage parking rather than street parking, Perri said. That way, customers who want to go downtown for lunch, a meeting or a trip to the bank can easily find parking on the street.
“I think it’s a testament to how clean we’re keeping the garages. There’s a lot of studies that equivocate safety with cleanliness,” Perri said.
He told the Redevelopment Commission DTSB realizes there’s still work to be done with the parking situation. Long-term projects to improve the garages includes installing new, lighted information and welcome signs letting visitors know they can park there and cleaning dirt and bird droppings off the windows in all the garages.
As the improvements and upgrades continue, Guy said she’ll continue to feel comfortable walking to and from her car all times during the day.
“I definitely think that it is safer. I do,” she said.