A Smartphone Parking App That Hatched In Downtown Takes Flight in North Hills

New Product Spotlights Raleigh’s Dynamic Innovation Community And Partnership by Business, Entrepreneurs, Government and Citizens

A smartphone app that was born in downtown Raleigh’s thriving innovation community has found a home in North Hills.

The app began as a new answer to an old question: How can I find a parking place? It has grown into a comprehensive source of information for visitors to North Hills – not only parking, but also store locations and hours, directions, movie times, restaurant menus, event schedules and more.

The app spotlights how Raleigh’s booming creative culture can bring entrepreneurs, technology experts, citizens, government and business together to turn an idea into a useful product.

While the app idea started downtown, it caught the eye of Raleigh City Councilor Bonner Gaylord, who is an open-data advocate and general manager of North Hills. So the app found its first home not downtown, but at North Hills’ privately held, mixed-use development.

The impetus for the project came from the citizens’ group Downtown Living Advocates. Jim Belt, a DLA Co-Founder, said, “In 2013, we organized a task force to counter outdated perceptions that parking is hard to find in Raleigh’s revitalized downtown district. The goal was to make parking in the urban core easier for the casual visitor to navigate. We wanted to attract more visitors and more business to support private and public sector economic development efforts.”

Another downtown advocate, J. King White, added, “Our project for downtown involves ongoing discussions over a year with city officials, the NCSU School of Design, merchants, community leaders, etc., and we’re pursuing both ‘low tech’ and ‘high tech’ solutions.” The low-tech solution included walkability, rate transparency, and signage. High-tech included the parking app.

Their group recruited a “Parking App Development Team” for the 2013 NC DataPalooza, a regional open-data competition sponsored by the White House that connects local innovators to relevant data drawn from federal, state and local resources.

Eric Majewicz, a mobile app developer and downtown advocate, led the technical team by creating a prototype smartphone application that uses city parking data in conjunction with GPS mapping data. Majewicz said, “The application presents parking options – complete with real-time pricing information and location photographs – nearest the intended final destination.” Once the user arrives at a remote parking site, the app then offers walking directions to the final destination and back. He noted, “The seamless navigation and wayfinding feature set makes parking far more user-friendly to suburban consumers otherwise intimidated by the urban landscape.”

The team’s project won 2013 NC DataPalooza. The victory came with a $3,500 award and an automatic berth at 2013 CED Tech Venture Conference.

DataPalooza is where they connected with Bonner Gaylord, who saw its value for North Hills. “Parking is a challenge in any urban, walkable environment. The beauty of this application is that it not only works to simplify parking, it also encourages walking while connecting visitors more closely to the community of North Hills and area events. The app is truly a one-stop community connection portal.”

White said, “Our team’s involvement in DataPalooza and Bonner’s familiarity with our initiative created the path that made this real-world solution for North Hills a possibility. Indeed, it’s a real grassroots story with a win-win.”

Next, the downtown Raleigh group hopes to develop a customized version of the North Hills app that can be adapted to downtown’s unique needs.

The North Hills app is available for download in the Google Play Store and Apple Store. Aside from gathering information about the businesses in North Hills, the app features a robust map of North Hills for locating points of interest and best places to park based on the desired location. The parking feature allows users to mark the location of their parked vehicle, launch walking directions to their destination, and then easily return to their vehicle for departure. The North Hills app provides users a calendar of upcoming programs and annual event series, that includes detailed information to be added to the user’s mobile calendar.