Two proposals unveiled in the past week aim to ease the financial burden musicians face when performing in Lower Broadway honky-tonks and other downtown music venues, by offering special rates for parking garages.

As Nashville’s entertainment district has evolved into a worldwide tourist destination, downtown parking rates have risen. Jeff Syracuse, who is an executive at BMI and represents the Donelson area on the Metro Council, said musicians have especially felt the impact, sometimes paying nearly 50 percent of their nightly paycheck to park their vehicles.

In a deal worked out with Premier Parking and the local musicians union, Syracuse will pitch a special $5 nightly parking rate for musicians at downtown music venues during a special meeting of downtown merchants on Thursday. Syracuse’s proposal comes on the heels of the Renaissance Hotel offering working musicians $9 valet service for its garage, beginning last week.

Although he’s a councilman, Syracuse’s proposal doesn’t come through Metro government. He took an interest after hearing from friends and constituents about the problem with downtown parking.

“I’ve been hearing from musicians who play down there, and it’s a challenge,” Syracuse said, adding that musicians can acquire the vouchers needed to park at the two Premier garages either through the clubs where they work or via the American Federation of Musicians Local 257 office.

Premier Parking CEO Ryan Chapman said the company is excited for the new partnership, adding that Premier believes “in the power and importance that music has to downtown and Nashville as a whole.” Chapman said he hopes the parking deal provides “real value” to working musicians.

Gil Gann, who plays guitar several nights per week and helps book bands at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Printers Alley, said he’s aware of musicians paying up to $45 to park on nights where they are likely to make only about twice that much.

“The thing is, with musicians, we’re artists, and they play for the love of it, so they will go ahead and pay it,” Gann said.

Alternatives include parking far away, which is a logistical challenge for those lugging gear, or searching for an affordable lot. On nights where there’s a major concert, which is frequent, or other event downtown, musicians are in a tough spot, Gann said.

Syracuse said he will explain the logistics of the new parking plan at a meeting of Lower Broadway district merchants, but he’s already received positive feedback. Barrett Hobbs, CEO of Cumberland Hospitality Group, which has an ownership stake in three downtown venues, said Syracuse’s proposal is welcomed.

“The musicians that draw the crowds to our city core are an extremely vital part of our economic engine,” Hobbs said. “His work to make sure that they aren’t priced out of performing is crucial to our community’s continued success.”

Elizabeth Hagler, account manager for the downtown Renaissance Hotel, said the new parking proposal has been positively received. The Renaissance is working with several local venues to hand out vouchers for the $9 valet parking. Musicians also can email her at eHagler@townepark.com for more information about the valet vouchers.

“I saw this to fill a void,” she said, adding that valets will help handle musicians’ instruments and other gear in addition to parking their cars. “(The music) is what people come to see. If we want guests to continue to come to our hotel, then we want to support the musicians.”

Syracuse acknowledged that the parking plan only works if the clubs and musicians are responsible with the private voucher information. He declined to disclose the two Premier garages that will be part of the program for safety reasons, but said they are downtown.

“I know people are going to ask about the bartenders and waiters and other staff, but they generally have steady income coming in,” Syracuse said. “Musicians do not. We’re trying to provide them with some stability.”

The parking plans do not address another logistical problem facing musicians downtown, which is loading their gear from near the clubs where they play. Often those spots are taken by taxi cabs or ride-sharing cars. Syracuse said that issue is on his radar screen, but the main problem there is enforcement and cooperation, not passing Metro legislation.

AFM Local 257 President Dave Pomeroy said the union has been exploring affordable parking options for musicians for several years to no avail.

“The musicians who work the clubs of Lower Broadway create the demand that brings tourists to Music City from around the world,” Pomeroy said. “Unfortunately, even in the midst of the huge tourist boom, musicians are still on the bottom of the economic ladder. The Nashville Musicians Association has been advocating with Metro for downtown players since 2010, helping to create musician loading zones and working with police to help control the taxicabs, Uber and Lyft drivers who consistently block the loading zones.

“Saving money on parking is the next best thing to a raise for these musicians, and we are very grateful to Metro Councilperson Jeff Syracuse and Premier Parking for making this first step a reality.”

New parking offers for musicians downtown

AFM Local 257 and local clubs will offer vouchers for $5 parking at two Premier Parking garages.
The Renaissance Hotel will offer vouchers for $9 valet parking.

Read this published article in the Tennesseean.