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In an effort to facilitate parking in downtown New Haven, city officials have proposed a plan to institute valet parking zones.

Under Director of Traffic and Parking Paul Wessel’s proposal, several spots on busy downtown streets would be marked as “valet zones.” The city would charge private companies a fee in return for the right to park customer cars in those spaces and in parking garages. Local businesses and Yale officials seemed supportive of the idea but stopped short of fully endorsing the plan.

Wessel said the plan is necessary in light of New Haven’s development as a popular destination for Connecticut residents.

“New Haven’s the most happening city in Connecticut,” he said. “More and more people want to come downtown. Whatever we can do for people to make it easy to do that … we want to survey.”

Wessel said the proposal was still in a formative stage and that officials are interested in brainstorming with local businesses.

“We have no formal plan,” Wessel said. “We’re putting it on the table and seeing what downtown restaurants, museums and private parking companies think.”

Shana Schneider ’00, a spokeswoman at the Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said she agreed that New Haven is clearly attracting more people from surrounding suburbs. But Schneider said she does not think that downtown suffers from an acute parking problem, given the presence of several parking garages that “never fill up.”

“In general, [valet parking] sounds interesting, but I still don’t think we’re at that point,” she said. “What’s going on downtown is a perception that there isn’t enough parking. We’re in an urban location. People learn to park in garages.”

Claire Criscuolo, owner of Claire’s Corner Copia at the corner of College and Chapel streets, said valet parking could make it safer for passengers who have been drinking to reach their vehicles.

“Valet zones would probably be a good thing what with the alcohol level,” she said. “It might be cleaner and easier to maintain a lot of drunk people trying to get their cars.”

But Criscuolo said that despite the plan’s potential benefits, she would not be able to afford any fees that might arise from the program.

Scott Healy ’91, director of Town Green Special Services District, said that given the program’s potential costs, officials should ensure that the institution of valet parking would not result in a loss of parking spaces for smaller businesses.

“Downtown has dry cleaners, cobblers, convenience stores and any number of other storefront services,” he said. “If someone’s picking up their dry cleaning, they’re not going to want to pay to park their car in a garage … You don’t want to displace short-term parking.”

Healy cited the Ninth Square district, in the Orange Street area, with its abundance of pricey eateries, as an ideal location for a valet program.

Wessel said that New Haven’s parking problem reflects the city’s surging popularity.

“It’s a problem we love to have,” Wessel said.

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