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“Mr. Parking”: CCDC’s Max Clark Leaves Legacy of Service in Downtown Boise

February 3, 2021

News & Notes

Max Clark, former CCDC Parking & Mobility Director

Parking garages aren’t generally celebrated for their outstanding views. But for Max Clark, Boise’s downtown parking structures provided a front-row seat for the many dramatic changes the city has experienced over the past two decades.

Max was no mere spectator to those changes. His extraordinary work helped give Boise the thriving city center it has today.

Max retired in December 2020 after 20 years as Director of Parking & Mobility for Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s redevelopment agency. His job, in short: “Park cars and babysit bricks,” he says—that is, manage the central business district’s 3,400 off-street parking spaces while also overseeing streetscapes and sidewalks, particularly the popular, walkable public gathering space along Eighth Street.

Over the course of those years, Max saw downtown evolve from a scrappy but struggling city center to one of the West’s most dynamic metropolitan hubs. He became “Mr. Parking,” the human face behind downtown’s seven concrete and steel public garages, his blonde shock of hair and ever-present grin a regular sight in every corner of downtown.

And though few residents realized it at the time, those garages—which Max came to know better than his own neighborhood—played a crucial role in giving Boise the kind of healthy, prosperous downtown that many cities can only wish for.

“We became a true urban core—a 24/7 city,” Max says. “The people downtown wanted good coffee; they wanted a good restaurant, and by golly they wanted to go to The Flicks for arthouse stuff. (With the garages), we at least set the right tone. It’s meeting the expectations of a technically much more sophisticated clientele.”

Max grew up in the Yakima Valley and attended Washington State University and then the University of Washington’s Graduate School of Public Affairs. He began his career in municipal government at the city of Bellevue, Washington, working in multiple roles in several departments over 20 years, “a jack of all trades and master of none,” he says. “My joke in Bellevue was they let me do everything except count money and carry a gun—very wise on their part.”

He aspired to someday become a city manager but quickly concluded that he had no taste either for late-night meetings or heavy-duty politics. Instead, he found a niche in mid-management, providing a bridge between oversight and operations.

A visit to Boise to see a former Bellevue colleague Phil Kushlan, then CCDC’s Executive Director, resulted in a job offer here in 2001.

Max and Linda Clark

“The city just blew me away,” he says. “The brick paver sidewalks and the trees, and the bones of the city.” Driving south across the Boise River toward Boise State University, he took in the now-iconic sight of a fly fisherman, casting for trout just steps away from downtown. “Where in the world do you see that? It blew my mind,” he says. “Boise wasn’t on my radar screen, but my wife and I said, ‘Well, why not? This is going to be an adventure.’”

It was an adventure, but not always a happy one. Throughout the early 2000s, downtown Boise struggled to find its footing. CCDC’s urban renewal districts, the financial engine for improvements to the central core, were underfunded, which meant enhancements were limited and maintenance sometimes deferred. Parking garages were a tough sell to long-time Boiseans accustomed to on-street parking, and in some years almost half of the garage spaces stood empty.

“People don’t want to pay, and people don’t want to walk,” he says. “They would not go in those parking structures and would do everything they could—circle the block 52 times—to find an on-street space.

“It was terrible. But the part of the job that gave me a lot of satisfaction was cleaning the sidewalks and fixing the bricks and putting benches in front of businesses. And they were profoundly grateful for those improvements.”

Yet the agency, with Max in the lead, was certain that parking garages would work to improve the economic growth downtown. Among his key innovations: “first hour free” parking, which Boise was among the first cities in the nation to adopt and which has since become the industry standard. “It was wildly successful. It gave people an incentive to come downtown. Everybody likes ‘free,’ right?” he says. “The joke was to try to get them to have a dessert or a second glass of wine so they’d creep into that next hour and we’d get that additional two bucks of revenue.”

But Max’s main focus was on the basics: keeping garages clean and ensuring they were safe and well-maintained so customers would no longer think twice about parking there. That meant juggling the priorities not just of drivers but also of the City of Boise’s parking division and police department, the Downtown Boise Association and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, individual building owners and businesspeople, the auditorium and highway districts, market vendors, and countless others.

“My forte was developing relationships and trust with people,” he says. “I made it a point never to pack a lunch. I ate out—and my waistline will attest to this—every lunch; I would spread it around to different businesses, and the understanding was that the business owner got the first 10 minutes to bend my ear. I gave them my cell phone number and told them I wanted to hear from them if they had a problem. And I did.”

Max Clark – recognition of service

Those efforts eventually paid off as Boise emerged from the 2008 recession and, by 2014, became known nationwide as one of the most, business-friendly, and family-oriented communities in the nation. Corporate investment downtown had a resurgence at that time, and drew employees from elsewhere who were seeking a true urban experience. The ‘virtuous cycle’ of investment generated the resources for CCDC to assist more than ever before.

A new brand for the garage system, ParkBOI, was introduced along with new user-friendly garage names, consistent wayfinding signage and colors in all CCDC garages, and automated kiosks reminding motorists that parking was available 24 hours a day. From 2014 to 2019, as the agency helped investors build hotels, apartments, and expand the convention center, garage occupancy zoomed to 80 percent. Waiting lists of 200 or more for spots rented by the month ensued, a first for the agency.

“Max did a great job leveraging our parking and mobility assets to attract more people and development to downtown,” says John Brunelle, executive director of CCDC for the past eight years.  “He is also a creative problem solver. In 2017 we reallocated spaces to meet the market need, and we introduced garage-based pricing adjusted to meet demand, an innovation at that time. Max played a key role.”

Along the way, Max came into great demand for his expertise at running a successful parking program. He has been a frequent presenter at industry conferences and has advised parking agencies from Oklahoma to Alberta, Canada.

In retirement, Max says, he and his wife, Linda, plan to stay in Boise. “I love the four seasons; I love my downtown view; I know I have way too many good restaurants to choose from. I can walk everywhere except the three miles to go play tennis and the two hours to go sailing up in McCall. Now the challenge is to live long enough to enjoy it.”