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Startup targets Bloomington parking inefficiencies without new lots, garages



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A FlexePark sign stands at the entrance of a parking lot on Kirkwood Avenue. Parking costs $6 daily, according to signs posted in the lot. Emily Putman Buy Photos

Parking has been a divisive topic in Bloomington since the city council decided to rebuild the Fourth Street garage. A startup that has been getting state and national recognition wants to be part of the solution.

FlexePark was developed to offer more parking in metro areas. It works with lot owners to make parking available in private lots after business hours or any time the lot is not in full use. The company was recently named a finalist in the 2019 Parking Today Awards and 2019 TechPoint Mira Awards.

“It finds inefficiencies and overcomes them,” said Alex Crowley, director of the city’s Economic and Sustainable Development Department. “It’s an innovative way to help with this parking problem.”

One of FlexePark’s four co-founders, Marc Ebtinger, said he got the idea for the startup four years ago when he was driving around Indianapolis one night looking for parking. He drove past three empty private lots and called Michael Dowden, another co-founder. Ebtinger told Dowden he had an idea.

Two years ago, the company tried its new idea in a lot on College Avenue. Since then, it has added locations in Broad Ripple, Fountain Square and Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis, as well as the lot next to the CVS on Kirkwood Avenue.

Dowden said FlexePark is working to open a new lot in a week or two in Bloomington. It will be the company's largest yet.

"We’ve targeted places with a lot of nightlife without a lot of parking,” Dowden said.

Dowden said Bloomington is a good community to implement FlexeParking because of the fluctuating traffic caused by large events and resulting lack of parking as well as the absence of the Fourth Street garage.

Users scan a QR code or go to FlexePark’s website where they enter a parking lot number and pay a flat rate based on location. The Kirkwood Avenue lot’s flat rate is $6, and it closes at 4 a.m. The College Avenue lot’s rate is $2.50, and it closes at 4:30 a.m. The flat fee covers a vehicle’s time in the lot until it closes for the day, even if the person leaves and comes back with the vehicle.

Dowden said from December to March, FlexePark has gained 2,000 users overall.

Randy Lloyd, a local real estate developer and owner of the Kirkwood lot, said he likes the company because of the flexibility it offers users and lot owners. Lloyd bought the lot to redevelop into condos, but construction won’t begin until later this year. FlexePark offers some revenue in the meantime.

Each lot is different, and Lloyd said FlexePark’s technology lets each lot owner set hours of availability and pre-authorize people who can park there for free.

Lloyd said FlexePark staff have been responsive to glitches in the system and said both he and staff manage the lot and sometimes tow cars whose owners park there multiple times without paying.

“It’s really quite a low-maintenance arrangement with them,” Lloyd said.

Crowley said the only downside to FlexePark is it encourages more car usage downtown. Decreasing car use is one of the city’s goals to cut down on carbon emissions.

Dowden said, however, FlexePark can be a compromise between those who did not want the Fourth Street parking garage rebuilt for environmental concerns and those who did want it rebuilt for more parking. By increasing established parking’s efficiency, FlexePark expands available parking while not using new materials to build or rebuild parking structures.

The company is planning to open a lot in a new Indiana community in the near future, going beyond its current locations in Indianapolis and Bloomington. Dowden said he thinks the business model would work in many small cities like Bloomington, but for now, they’re just expanding within Indiana.

“I think all of us here love to see innovative technologies working to solve city problems,” Crowley said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Alex Crowley’s name. The IDS regrets this error.

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