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An ambassador for parking shoppers

Olympia's Downtown Ambassador Peter Spotts, far right, helps Sherry Nelson and Janelle Runyon with a parking pay station Friday in downtown Olympia. The Parking and Business Improvement Area is paying for Spotts to help shoppers deal with parking and information needs through January.
Olympia's Downtown Ambassador Peter Spotts, far right, helps Sherry Nelson and Janelle Runyon with a parking pay station Friday in downtown Olympia. The Parking and Business Improvement Area is paying for Spotts to help shoppers deal with parking and information needs through January. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Meet Peter Spotts, Olympia's new downtown ambassador.

He’s walking the city center four hours each weekday in a bright yellow coat, helping people use the new parking pay stations, providing directions and answering questions about downtown.

The program is offered by the Parking and Business Improvement Area, a business-funded downtown-beautification and marketing group. Spotts has been a PBIA employee for several years, operating the Green Machine sidewalk sweeper, which he continues to do part time.

Now Spotts is focusing on helping people use about 50 new parking pay stations, one per block in the city core; they replaced the 90-minute free zone in July. Unlike traditional coin meters, the machines have minicomputers that require users to manipulate several buttons to print a receipt that serves as proof of payment, to be placed on the curbside dash. They charge $1 an hour for up to two hours and accept coins as well as credit and debit cards.

For newcomers, they can be confusing. A random drive around downtown can reveal many shoppers leaning toward the machines’ screens with befuddled looks on their faces.

And that’s where Spotts come in.

“There have been a number of times I was glad to be available,” Spotts said, “because people were experiencing some frustration. Hopefully, we turned that around.”

Spotts also makes sure the machines are working. He was tested Friday.

Olympia resident Stu Carlson was trying to pay for his parking, but found a pay station broken. So he went to a nearby station to pay.

In the meantime, one of the city’s parking enforcers began to ticket his car on Fifth Avenue. Carlson bolted back toward his car, yelling at the parking officer to stop.

Spotts said he would have intervened, but before he could Carlson was explaining the situation to the parking officer, and he voided the ticket.

“It was just bad timing,” Carlson said. “Man’s just doing his job.”

Carlson, who has lived in Olympia for more than 50 years, said he likes the downtown ambassador program.

Afterward, Spotts strolled around the corner to Capitol Way in front of Batdorf & Bronson. He helped Janelle Runyon and Sherry Nelson work the pay station.

“I didn’t know that there was an ambassador, and I think that’s great,” she said.

Ruthie Snyder, downtown code-enforcement officer and city liaison to the PBIA, said the ambassador is a pilot project that started this month and will last until the end of January. It could be continued afterward, but the PBIA particularly wanted to help downtown shoppers during the holidays.

Spotts, she said, “is like Mr. Perfect for this.”

The soft-spoken, unflappable Spotts mentioned an unusual query he received. Someone said, “I forgot to pay earlier, and I got a ticket,” he said. The person asked if it was possible to pay then.

The reply was no. For all he can do, he can’t “go back in time.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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