The Hidden Jewel of Hull

Marc Dubé at the interview

Marc Dubé is the owner of most of the parking lots in downtown Hull. He was kind enough to agree to an interview with The Impervious P-lot personnel and Spacing.

In the mid 1980s, Dubé and two others planned to open a restaurant in downtown Hull. The financing fell through after they had already signed the lease on a building. Dubé realized an alternate source of income: he could demolish the building and put in a parking lot. Since his partners weren’t interested, he began the business on his own. As he explained it: “We were three waiters that were supposed to renovate an old building into a restaurant…It was some kind of a deviation from the original idea.” Needless to say, his deviation was a success:

Well, 22 years ago the parking industry was not known at all here — like it was in Montreal, Toronto, busier cities, Ottawa. And now everybody knows about this business; but before, nobody. It was like a hidden jewel. It was something that nobody knew at that point and I just had the opportunity to go into that industry. And now, everybody wants to, would love to have parking because it’s a low maintenance company. Like once you add your trees and your paving and your booth you just wait for your customer to come in. It’s a simple industry. It’s not a complicated industry. And the beauty of it is that you get revenues that pay for your land, and your land keeps taking value. So then in 10, 12 years it’s a retirement fund, pension plan.

Dubé now operates twelve parking lots in downtown Hull, some on land he owns, others on land he leases. We asked Dubé how old each of his parking lots are:

Oh, some of them are 22 years old, and some of them are 5, 6, 7. It was a gradual thing. I started from one. I leased another one…It started as a small thing. And at that time I was dead broke and it started like that and it grew and grew and grew and now I have companies around it too, like snow removal and towing companies — companies that I needed for the parking. So now I own other companies that are affiliated with that.

Not every parking lot he opened did well. When asked if there are ever unsuccessful lots that people just don’t use, Dubé replied, “Yes, because some of them are too far from the activity. So if you have to walk five miles after you park your car, it’s not convenient. So the people at that point are going to go to plan B, which is the bus or the train.”

Unfortunately we didn’t ask Dubé whether, as he grew his business, he considered what it would do to Hull to lay down parking lots everywhere. And he doesn’t have to deal with the consequences since he doesn’t live there. But others do: the people who live in Hull. How did Dubé manage to build all of those parking lots without intervention from Hull residents, from the city, or from anyone else?

One of Marc Dubé Hull p-lots

Dubé says his parking lot clients are “mostly government people, business people, industry surrounding the government people — like the fax, photocopiers reparation, things like that. At night restaurants, bars —that’s mostly the clientele”. Hull’s lots were not built for the neighbourhood — although local entrepreneurs and businesses feel they need parking in order to have customers.

Dubé told us that at this point he’s less involved in the management of the lots: “I’m less in the operation. I’m more in the planning. What are we going to do with those parking lots in the future? Are we going to build on them? Are we going to maintain them as parking?” In Dubé’s eyes, parking lots are temporary spaces biding their time storing cars before being developed into condos. Parking lots are spaces that change; owners don’t necessarily conceive of them as permanent. Eventually someone turns them into something else.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Amber Yared is one among a group of artists, writers, educators, and architects working on The Impervious P-lot, a Hull-based CUP project about parking lots and what they do besides store cars. She will be posting her findings on the Spacing Wire as the project progresses.

2 comments

  1. Heh. The above comment aside, what this does point out is how no matter how much we hate them parking lots are ludicrously profitable businesses. Your expenses are almost zero (paying someone minimum wage to sit in a hut, if that), and you can charge whatever the market will bear. Which in central Toronto is quite a lot. And the best part? When the time comes, you can just sell it to a developer for ten million dollars! Not a bad proposition. So in other words, the only way to get rid of surface lots quickly in Toronto is to tax them out of existence; ie, make them more attractive to sell. This is especially so because, obviously, as there are less such lots–and there are many, many less today then 5 years ago, and will be many fewer again in another 5–the remainder only make more money!

    One proposal I remember being floated years ago was to tax surface lots as though they were whatever building the land was zoned for. I suspect that would get rid of these urban blights rather fast.

Comments are closed.