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New Ordinance May Bring Higher Costs for Downtown Valet Parking

Dec. 17, 2008 – Costs for using valet services in downtown Chicago might soon rise under an ordinance proposed by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) that would require parking companies to have insurance coverage of at least $1 million and prove all their drivers have a valid license.

This ordinance is long overdue," said Reilly. The issue, he said, "has only grown more frustrating and more complex Downtown as time has gone by."

The ordinance passed last week by the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety could be considered by the full City Council as early as Dec 17. If passed, businesses that seek to hire valet companies would also be required to increase by 15 percent the available parking space for valets, guaranteeing parking spaces for at least 25 percent of the business's seating capacity, a measure adopted to stop valets from leaving cars in public parking spots. The committee also decided to drop a proposal to raise the license fee for valet companies from $300 to $1,000.

Among the problems aldermen cited before unanimously approving the measure: the lack of parking spaces for residents and citizen complaints about valets' behavior.

"Citizens call my office saying there is no parking space in their neighborhood," said Ald. Manuel Flores (1st).

Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said he received complaints from citizens who witnessed valets eating and smoking in their cars.

"I've personally called a few restaurants where I heard valets eat, smoke and keep warm in customers' cars," said Fioretti, who said he does not like giving his car keys to valets.

No valet company representative was present at the committee meeting and not many appeared to know about the ordinance.

"Usually, they would send us a letter, but I didn't get any notice this time," said Bob Gariti, owner of Regional Valet Service, a parking management company based in Chicago.

Doing business in Chicago, Gariti said he's already insured for $1 million because many Downtown businesses require valet companies to have such a policy.

For some valet companies, such as Michael Munao's Five Star Valet, the ordinance is a good measure to get rid of unlawful competition.

"It's phenomenal," said Munao, owner of Five Star Valet, at 2142 W. Concord Lane in Addison. "It will get the riff-raff out of the valet industry."

Munao has an insurance policy covering his business up to $3 million, which allows him "to sleep at night," he said. "If God forbid something really bad happens, do you think it is only going to cost $1 million?"

Still, insurance costs can be high in the valet business, and owners warn higher insurance costs could translate into higher valet parking costs.

"I pay about $17,000 a year for my insurance," said Jean Pierre Petit, owner of Valet Parking Experts Inc., a five-year-old Miami-based valet company that also does business in Mexico, where Petit says insurance costs less than half what it does here.

"We won't be able to stay in business without raising costs," said Steve Espinoza, owner of Premier Valet Chicago Inc. "Some valet rates will be higher, but restaurants don't want companies to raise their prices."

But restaurants and local businesses might not have a choice, as the limited number of parking spaces Downtown could force clients to rely on valet services anyway.

"The ordinance will not have much of an effect because there are no other options for parking around here," said Kate Naylor, manager at the restaurant Tavern on Rush at 1031 N. Rush St.

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