Jane Stieber, counting the dwindling minutes of her lunch hour from the Environmental Protection Agency, double-parked the other day on F Street NW outside Garfinckel's downtown store. Finally someone pulled out from one of the curbside spaces and Stieber darted in.
"Unbelievable! A parking space," she exclaimed, plugging a coin into the meter. "I had about decided to give up."
Stieber, a lifelong Washingtonian who lives in Southwest, is among hundreds of motorists who drive each day into the area around 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW -- long a major crossroads in the city -- only to find there is no place to park.
The reason? Redevelopment, notably the fedeally sponsored renewal of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, has eliminated no fewer than six parking garages and lots within two blocks of that intersection in the last several months.
As a result, some businesses report fewer customers, restaurants are serving fewer dinners and a hotel that normally attracts guests because of its landmark location is losing reservations because it must inform callers that they no longer can park next door.
"We tell them that and they say, 'Forget it,'" said Muneer Deen, manager of the Hotel Washington across from the Treasury Building at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
All told, 1,311 garage parking spaces have been lost in the immediate area. Four garages -- shut down because of activity by the government-sponsored Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC) -- had been in the 1400 block of F Street next to the hotel and across from Garfinckel's, in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue between the hotel and the recently demolished Occidental Restaurant, and in the 1200 and 1300 blocks of E Street -- the latter near the National Theatre.
In addition, surface parking lots have been closed because of redevelopment at 13th and E and on G Street between 14th and 15th. In the two-block-wide band north of Pennsylvania Avenue between 12th and 15th streets, only one garage remains. It is in the basement of an office building.
PADC officials, however, say the situation is temporary.
"It's not that we're getting rid of these spaces for ever and ever," said PADC'S Rita Abraham. "I know in the short term it's a problem. But it almost couldn't be helped because of pressures to make the whole [Pennsylvania Avenue] project move forward."
Ultimately, Abraham said, the 1,311 lost off-street garage spaces will be replaced by 1,790 new ones in the basements of new office buildings and hotels. rReaching that total will take about two years. But some will be available within weeks in the soon-to-be-occupied headquarters of the National League of Cities at 13th and E streets NW. The ultimate success of the Pennsylvania Avenue development project is predicted upon dominant use of the Metro transit system, she said.
Meanwhile, places depend upon customers who come from outside the immediate neighborhood are hurting.
James Knauss, manager of the National Press Club at 14th and F streets NW, said the number of members who come for dinner has dropped since the garage across from Garfinckel's, half a block away, was closed in September. Like others, who were interviewed, he could provide no statistics.
Kim Gregory, a CBS News producer, said his wife, Carol, refuses to drive from suburban Virginia to meet him at the club in the evening because of the lack of nearby parking. Although there is a large open-air lot behind the District Building less than two blocks away, used during the daytime mainly for parking by government workers, Gregory says his wife fears walking that distance alone after dark.
Deen, the Hotel Washington manager, said many people with tickets to National Theatre performances used to park in the garage next door, have dinner at the hotel's Two Continents restaurant and walk around the corner to the show. Now they're gone, he said, and advance bookings for banquets by community organizations have fallen off.
"It has been a nightmare for us, a constant fight, really," Deen said. "Hopefully in a year this problem will be done."
Sam Indigaro, president of Lewis & Thos. Saltz, a men's wear retailer with its flagship store in the 1400 block of G Street, said business has dwindled badly, especially on Saturdays, since the parking lot across the street was closed for construction of Metropolitan Square -- the project of the Oliver T. Carr Co. that will fill out the rest of the block now occupied by Garfinckel's.
"There is no more validating -- no parking lots to validate for -- and no more Park & Shop," Indigaro said, referring to a recently discontinued retailer-supported parking program. "I think it is going to be rough going down here till the redevelopment is settled. Then it will be a bonanza for everyone."
Aniko Gaal, public relations director of Garfinckel's, said business has generally held up, thanks to the store's midday walk-in trade and to Metro.But some who drove have shifted their trade to the Spring Valley and suburban branches. Gaal said Garfinckel's plans during the Christmas season to hire doorkeepers who will watch packages while customers who have finished shopping go get their cars.
James E. Clark, acting director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, said the simultaneous closure of the six parking facilities was unfortunate but unavoidable. To create and operate a temporary parking lot when a building is going up, a solution suggested by some business operators in the area, "is impractical or impossible," Clark said. He stressed that the city government has no legal authority to establish or operate downtown public parking facilities, a congressionally ordained preserve for private enterprise. p
"This isn't the fault of the parking industry," says Gilbert Violente, executive director of the industry's trade organization, the Washington Parking Association. "It's true, there is a crunch in that immediate block [1400 F Street], and we worked with them very, very diligently. We were hoping there would be something kept in that block for parking, but they [PADC] decided otherwise. The District wants to remove autos from downtown; that seems to be their continuing philosophy."