Other drivers circle the block in frustration as they look for parking in the Back Bay, but not Lisa Saunders. The businesswoman, part of the family that owned the Park Plaza Hotel for decades, always had a prime city-owned parking spot waiting for her black Cadillac right in front of her office at 20 Park Plaza.
Saunders’ parking space was marked “tow zone” and “valet parking only,” but city parking enforcement officers didn’t write a ticket for Saunders’ vehicle even when she left it there all day. In fact, Lisa Saunders appears to be the only person in Boston who had a valet parking spot for her own personal use.
It’s not exactly the crimes of Whitey Bulger, but, in a city where two parking spaces were recently auctioned for $560,000, parking abuse is no laughing matter, either. After the Globe questioned Saunders about her choice perk last week, she accused the reporter of harassing her and declined to answer.
The city’s response to questions about the parking spot was more unequivocal: Transportation officials ordered the signs taken down from 20 Park Plaza, ending Saunders’ privileges and saying they should never have approved the space for valet parking in the first place. “Nobody should park their personal vehicle all day in a valet parking space,” said Daniel R. Nuzzo, the city transportation official who oversees valet parking. “That’s against the rules. We take this very seriously. It compromises the integrity of the whole system.”
The dust-up at the curb of one of Boston’s premier hotels underscores both the volatility of parking issues and the lengths to which some will go to avoid the hassles of Back Bay parking. Saunders’ publicist later acknowledged that Saunders hired an influential consultant, Gregg Donovan, to go to City Hall to change the parking spot in front of her office from no parking to “valet parking.” Such signs are usually reserved for hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and condominiums.
Donovan, a South Boston developer with close ties to Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s top aide, Michael Kineavy, said that he helped Saunders by asking city officials last September to relocate an unused valet parking space from a nearby closed restaurant to the office at 20 Park Plaza.
As such, Donovan wasn’t asking for a new valet space for Saunders. But even moving the existing valet designation created an unusual situation; it became the only one of 128 valet locations in Boston in front of an office building, rather than the businesses with rapid customer turnover such as hotels and restaurants that normally use valet parking.
Donovan’s intervention worked like a charm: Over a four-day period, a Globe reporter observed Saunders’ Cadillac — and sometimes a chauffeur-driven town car in which Saunders was a passenger — occupying the space for up to eight hours at a time. No one else parked in the spot.
During that time, city parking enforcement officers passed the Cadillac over and over again, but city records show she never received a ticket even when she remained in the parking space all day.
And it appears Saunders didn’t pay any fee for the valet parking privileges because the permit is in the name of the Park Plaza Hotel, which is immediately adjacent to the office building and so similar in design that guests sometimes mistake the office entrance for the hotel. The hotel pays the city $13,500 annually for numerous valet spaces at the hotel.
Park Plaza officials declined comment on Saunders’ valet parking spot, but, in a recent letter to city officials, said they had nothing to do with the valet spot in front of Saunders’ office.
Nuzzo, the city official in charge of valet parking, said in an interview that he did not conduct a hearing on Donovan’s request because it was not a new valet space, just a relocation of an existing one along the perimeter of a hotel-office complex that has long had a variety of valet parking spaces for the hotel and restaurants.
“I didn’t have a problem sliding [the valet space] down closer to the entrance,” said Nuzzo, who said he believed the valet space was being moved to another entrance of the hotel, not the office building.
After being shown a photo of the Cadillac parked in a valet parking space located in front of an office building, Nuzzo said, “We will definitely look into that and put an immediate stop to it.”
That same week, city workers took down the valet parking sign over Saunders’ parking spot.
Saunders was clearly startled when initially approached by a reporter for comment about her parking spot as she got into her parked Cadillac at 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 6. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” she said, and drove away.
Later, Saunders filed a complaint to police alleging that the reporter had grabbed her by the shoulder from behind. “She was startled by his extremely aggressive manner and found it particularly upsetting that he knew her full name,” according to the police report.
The Globe reporter said he did not act aggressively, and made no physical contact with Saunders. He said he simply identified himself and, referring to her as “Ms. Saunders,” asked about her soon-to-be-taken-away parking space.
The Globe also e-mailed Saunders and left a telephone message for her. Alicia Gordon, Saunders’ public relations representative, said Saunders “would have no comment because she was terrified by the way the reporter approached her.”
Later Gordon e-mailed to say only that “Lisa Saunders hired professional services to obtain the valet zone in front of 20 Park Plaza. This is the extent of her knowledge and involvement.”
Nuzzo, the valet parking chief, said abuse of valet parking zones is not widespread.
“I don’t think you’ll find this happening elsewhere in the city,” he said. “This is an oddity.”