At a Jan. 6 meeting with Asheville City Council members, Chamber President and CEO Rick Lutovski proposed that his organization approach the owners of private parking lots downtown and ask them to free up some of their spaces for public use.
"Towing is an issue I think we can take a leadership role in. I commend the city for their little sting, but I think that's only part of the problem," said Lutovski, referring to the Dec. 20 arrest of two men from the All-Safe Towing & Recovery Co. after they towed a car planted by the Asheville Police Department.
The discussion came up during a "leadership meeting" between Council members and Chamber representatives. Mayor Terry Bellamy, Vice Mayor Jan Davis and Council members Brownie Newman and Carl Mumpower attended. Recent City Council appointee Kelly Miller chose to speak primarily in his role as the Chamber's executive vice president.
Opening up parking in private lots would make downtown more accessible for tourists while taking some of the burden off the city to build additional decks, said Lutovski. The idea, he noted, could involve the city's leasing private lots during off-hours.
"We're not hearing from people who live here," he said. "We're hearing from people from Atlanta who are telling their friends not to come here."
Davis disagreed with that assessment, saying it's Council members who hear about it when a city resident gets towed. Davis said he favors a regulatory approach to control the patrolling tow trucks that are locally known as "sharks."
The city attorney's office is evaluating a Raleigh ordinance regulating towing companies in that city.
Mumpower conceded, however, that the Chamber may have a role to play, since many owners of downtown lots are Chamber of Commerce members. "I think we all know some of those people," he said.
Lutovski, meanwhile, noted that while lots serving downtown residences will probably have to remain off-limits to the general public, others -- such as bank parking lots that are mostly empty after 5 p.m. -- might have space available. He said he would soon begin meeting with city staff and perhaps with business owners to gauge their level of enthusiasm for the idea.