Keeping Up with the Parking Joneses

San Diego Convention Center

San Diego Convention Center

When it comes to parking in San Diego, everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses.

The company that was founded by Evan Jones, Ace Parking, is now run by Evan’s son Scott. Scott is in charge of a venture that brings in more than $80 million a year in revenue from more than 75% of the paid parking lots in San Diego.

Jones is not just another name in San Diego. Much like such iconic names as Luce, Fletcher and Hahns, Jones is a name that is instantly recognizable to anyone from San Diego. Albert, father to Evan and grandfather to Scott, had a hand in building the California Theatre downtown as a real estate developer in San Diego. Evan followed in these footsteps by being influential in shaping the political and structural landscape of San Diego’s downtown area.

The vice president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, Ron Oliver, remarks, “The Joneses’ fingerprints are all over this town.” Evan Jones helped to found the group in order to help develop San Diego.

When Scott graduated from Stanford University in 1971, taking on a 9-to-5 job and following in his father’s footsteps was the last thing from his mind. He was more concerned with scoring tickets to see the Grateful Dead in concert as well as worrying about the Vietnam War. On top of being generally uninterested in taking on the responsibility, Scott was laid back and soft spoken, making a public position a little nerve racking.

Determined not to let anyone down, Scott says, “It was really important to me when I got out of college that I wasn’t copping out or getting a free ride by just stepping into my father’s company.”

Scott, however, was not destined to avoid working in the family business. Not long after graduating, Scott was lured into entering into the family business thanks to a new account his father had acquired outside of San Diego. Scott’s interest in sports, “and only because of my interest in sports”, was the reason why he took a position with the company and helped to set up the parking ground crews for the upcoming football season at the newly acquired Texas Stadium.

In retrospect, Scott says, “I loved it. I loved organizing it all, putting the team together.”

Now, twenty-two years have passed and Scott Jones has taken the helm as chairman and CEO at Ace Parking. It was about five years ago that he took on the CEO title for one of the biggest private employers and most entrenched monopolies in all of San Diego. This was also due in part to the fact that his father was unable to run the company with increasing difficulties arising from Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to Scott that the world knows that is a different man than his father, Evan Jones. Those who look at the two might have trouble making this distinction since they both have pale blue-grey eyes, Swept back brown hair that is thinning and the cheeks of a teddy bear that any grandmother would be itching to pinch.

Another major shared attribute between father and son is the sense of civic duty. Scott has helped to found as involved in quite a few business groups, like: the Downtown San Diego Partnership, the Downtown Transportation Management Association and the San Diego Zoo Building and Grounds Committee.

Scott has also taken Ace Parking much further than Evan might have imagined possible. Whereas his father may have desired to keep everything close to San Diego, the Texas Stadium deal being the exception, Scott is willing to expand as quickly as possible. Under Scott, the company has expanded into Los Angeles county, Orange county, Oregon and Arizona. There are quite a few high-profile clients Scott has secured as well, like: Orange County’s Irvine Co., the Tucson Airport, Portland International Airport, the Hyatt Regency at the Aventine in La Jolla, and the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

Recently, Scott signed the Town & Country Hotel in Mission Valley, making it the first hotel in Mission Valley to contract a pay-for-parking service. On the tally of San Diego hotels on the Ace Parking roster, this makes number 16. However, this pales in comparison to February 10th, 1984 when Scott was entrusted with handling the parking for the 2,300-space garage for Horton Plaza.

Thinking back, Scott says, “As years went by, the issue became bigger and bigger and bigger to me: Am I here because my father paved the road or because I’m talented and capable of making good decisions? The day I got the Horton Plaza contract, I felt I made it, like a curtain opening. I knew I was my own capable, successful person.”

As a single father, Scott struggled to make it work and to maintain his individuality. He even delegated to his father on occasion since Evan has been declared by Scott as a ‘classic workaholic’.

In regards to his personal life, Scott says, “I want to have a life that’s not strapped to a desk. I’d rather leave money on the table and have extra time for myself.”

Among the ways in which Scott maintains his own life is to enjoy his love of rock ‘n’ roll. This includes seeing concerts like Steve Miller, Neil Young, Tina Turner and Keith Richards in recent years. As a huge fan of the Rolling Stones, he even named two of his children after two of the band members: Brian and Keith. In addition, Scott has been a surfer even before he graduated from Point Loma High School and still surfs today.

Scott has no intentions of having his two boys follow into the family business and will not put any pressure on them to do so, saying, ““I want to handle it the way my father did, with more of a carrot than a stick approach and just create an environment that if they want to come in they can.”

Brian, Scott’s oldest son is still trying to decide which college to attend. This may seem like a foregone conclusion with such a family dynasty at Stanford. Looking at the family history, anyone can see that Brian’s father and grandfather attended Stanford. Additionally, his maternal grandfather, Malin Burnham, attended Stanford and his great grandmother was a member of the first graduating class of Stanford.

With all of the success for Scott and Ace Parking, it is far from over. Five Star Parking, based in Los Angeles, came to San Diego 10 months ago and has since taken over nine locations (six of these used to be Ace lots). Paul Chacon, the leader bringing Five Star Parking to San Diego, is a former real estate broker, and a parking powerhouse. He says, “there’s a parking war going on.”

“The days where one company dominates the parking world in San Diego are over,” Chacon says. “The kind of dominance Evan built is unheard of in a city this size. Monopolies can’t last.”

There is intense competition on the horizon for Ace Parking with parking prices dropping, thanks to the economy, and more downtown lots remaining less than full. In addition to Five Star, Ace Parking has to compete now with: a franchise of Parking Co. of America; Star Parking, a subsidiary of Starboard Development; Seattle-based Diamond Parking Service; Houston-based Allright Parking; and Ampco, a subsidiary of the public company American Building Maintenance.

Part of the reason for the decrease in the number of cars using downtown lots is due to the ecological push being made in modern society. As fewer San Diegans are driving, to reduce pollution, there is simply not a need for a lot of parking spaces.

In response, Scott is looking to alternative parking opportunities, like satellite parking lots on bus routes and near freeway ramps. This is in addition to corporate-mandated ridesharing.

Scott realizes the limitations this implies since he is, “in the automobile business and will be hurt by these things, and I realize a lot of businesses are against such rules,” Scott says. “But, if we don’t take action now, eventually, we’ll have stricter regulation.”

To combat the problem with increased competition as well as the clean air regulations, Scott is focusing on people. He is putting more focus on his clients and the 2,000 employees that work for Ace Parking.

To wit, he says, “What I’ve learned from seeing this city go through all the bank problems and real estate problems is that the one thing, the only thing, I can control is our level of service.”

Part of the vigilance that Scott brings to the business is to hold weekly meetings with the landlords in charge of the buildings and spaces that utilize Ace.

When asked to comment on Scott, the general manager of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium (the premier account for Ace), Bill Wilson says, “He’s a quality fanatic. I’ve stood on the ramps at big Charger games with both Evan and Scott and watched them work the radios. They’re both very hands-on.”

There is no time off when it comes to the parking industry for Scott as exemplified in a recent golf game with Wilson. When Wilson mentioned a traffic flow problem at a recent football game, Scott dropped his club immediately and rushed to the clubhouse to fix the problem and restore quality.

The legacy that Scott received from his father appears to be the attention to clients.

Since early last year, Evan Jones has been a resident at Casa Palmera in Del Mar. Scott took Wilson with him to visit the now 74 year old Evan. When asked about the meeting, Wilson said, ““It was so heartwarming to see them hug and see the great love that’s there.”

As a tribute to the man so beloved by San Diegans, a recommendation is being made to the City Council by Councilman Ron Roberts to name the San Diego Concourse parking structure after Evan Jones. Scott is helping Roberts to get the historical data as puts together his proposal. Scott is happy to help honor the man whose shoes he has been asked to fill. Wilson remarks that the two are quite different but similar in many ways.

While it is true that Evan Jones will always enjoy Benny Goodman over Keith Richards as well as a traditional wood and Persian rug office over a black-leather and chrome office, the important similarities remain. Scott will always be similar to Evan in making sure every client feels like a king.