The owner of the Woodbury 10 Theatre acknowledged Friday that miscommunication resulted in more than 25 vehicles being towed from an approved Metro Transit park and ride this week and said that he's working to get refunds for drivers whose vehicles were hauled away.
Theater owner Nathan Block says he will meet as early as Monday with the owner of the towing company, Rapid Response, to sort out what led to the removal of the properly parked vehicles and discuss the possibility of refunding the $350 vehicle owners were charged.
"I instructed them very clearly to tow only from the first two rows on the west end of the building … which are clearly marked as 'theater parking only,' " Block said. "The area of towing was clearly designated, but somehow a mistake was made."
The Woodbury 10 Theatre leases the parking lot at 1470 Queens Drive from Metro Transit and has authority to tow vehicles that are illegally parked, according to the lease that was signed in 2003.
Part of the lot is reserved exclusively for movie patrons and has signs warning that violators will be towed at their expense. The last few rows of the lot are an officially designated, Metro Transit-sponsored park and ride for commuters who catch express buses to downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Block said the theater exercised its right to tow once before, in 2007, when those using the park and ride encroached on spaces reserved for moviegoers. The towing stopped when the problem abated.
The issue resurfaced in March after the last big snowstorm. Commuters using the park and ride left no places for theater patrons to park, Block said.
"I had my elderly afternoon patrons literally screaming at me in the lobby because there was no room for them to park," Block said.
The lot was full again Monday, and the issue came to a head. The tow company Block used in 2007 is out of the impound business, so he contracted with Rapid Recovery. The company did not follow the intended instructions, Block said.
"Nobody 'called' the towing company on Monday," he said "They were contracted to start towing on that day and that is what they did. None of our staff were even on site when the towing took place. For reasons that remain unclear, [they] towed outside the designated area. This was not, in any way, authorized."
Block, who spoke Friday after returning from an industry convention in Las Vegas, said the Woodbury 10 did not receive any money from the tows and that he is working for a speedy resolution.
He has a meeting with the owner of Rapid Recovery and Metro Transit set for Monday morning "in hopes of resolving the situation in favor of the park-and-riders who were towed that were legally parked."
Block said the owner of Rapid Recovery is the only person in the St. Paul company who can grant refunds. The owner is on vacation and not available for comment.
Block said the illegal parking has been an ongoing problem and has continued even after Monday's incident.
"I am doing the best I can to resolve this situation as quickly as I am able," Block said.