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City's new parking ambassador is on the beat

Jeff Wilkins started as the city's first parking ambassador on Tuesday. Jeff Wilkins started as the city's first parking ambassador on Tuesday.

Sporting a lime green polo shirt with the city of Hendersonville insignia on the front and “PARKING AMBASSADOR” on the back, Jeff Wilkins is ready to make life easier for tourists and other downtown visitor.

The city’s first official guide to parking downtown started work today.
“I love Hendersonville and I know everybody in town,” he says. “I’m going to be wayfinding for people from out of town and making sure that people know how the parking works.”
The idea of parking ambassadors came from a parking study that recommended the city deploy friendly guides who could explain the regulations, point out public parking and generally help visitors who have questions.
While he was working in an internship at City Hall, Wilkins, 29, began talking with City Manager John Connet and Downtown Development Director Lew Holloway about the new parking ambassador program. The city hired him for the part-time job. It plans to hire one more.

Wilkins, a lifelong resident, graduated from Hendersonville High School in 2004 and from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008. He’s working on a masters degree in public administration from Western Carolina University and aspires to be a city planner and city manager. For now, he's happy with his new job as a walking guidebook to his hometown.
While he wants to make sure that visitors “know what the expectations are” when it comes to parking, Wilkins plans a soft approach. He does not even plan to pack a pad of parking tickets for the first month and when he does crack down “I’ll write warning tickets.” The idea is education more than enforcement. Walking up and down Main Street, for instance, he may notice that an employee is monopolizing a premium space in front of a shop. He compares the city’s approach to the culture of Disney World, where visitors know they can ask anyone with a mouse ears insignia a question.
“I want it to be where people feel comfortable when they come to downtown Hendersonville,” he said. “Hendersonville is not just another town.”