On game nights, Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Tigers fans can park at the FedExForum garage or at any number of nearby parking lots. But some of those parking lots are operating illegally.
On a Tigers game night in late January, members of the Center City Commission (CCC) joined city code enforcement officers to issue citations at 14 lots. So-called gypsy parking lots, the pay-to-park operations are set up in various locations near FedExForum during special events. Of the 10 operators cited, three were found guilty on Monday of operating illegally. Three cases have yet to be disposed.
"Public parking garages downtown have seen a decrease in business," said Jerome Rubin, the CCC's vice president of operations, to explain the crackdown during a recent CCC public safety committee meeting.
"Every time there's a Grizzlies game or a Tigers game, these lots pop up," said Larry Bloom, public safety coordinator for the CCC.
According to Allen Medlock, administrator with Memphis and Shelby County Department of Construction Code Enforcement, paid parking lots operated in otherwise vacant lots must meet certain zoning criteria and must be landscaped and streetscaped.
If someone wants to operate a pay-to-park business in a vacant lot, the operator must get a permit from the city to do so. However, parking lots owned by churches or businesses that are used occasionally for special event parking are allowed to operate without a permit.
"We actually don't have much of a problem with those," Medlock said. "If we can consider the lots an accessory use lot, like for a church or any other business that's not in use at the time, and it doesn't create a danger with people trying to get out in a forward motion, we don't have a problem with that."
Medlock said officers gave "courtesy citations" to all operators of surface lots, even if they weren't in violation, on January 23rd.
"After that, we made the determination that some were accessory lots and can be used," Medlock said.
At the CCC meeting, Rubin speculated that some of the lots in question might belong to business owners who aren't aware their lot, is even being used as a paid lot.
"In the past, some people have come in who had nothing to do with the lot and they're charging people to park there," Medlock said.
The action was the first of its kind, and Medlock said he hopes illegal lot operators near FedExForum got the message.
"Hopefully, they understand that you can't charge people to park in a lot without meeting certain design criteria," Medlock said. "It has to meet criteria for streetscaping, lighting, and lane and parking-space widths."