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Downtown Fargo parking lot attendants pushed out by progress, automation

Al Schraw, a parking attendant for US Bank, talks Wednesday, June 7, 2017, at the downtown Fargo lot.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — The parking lot attendant's shack had an air-conditioning unit in the ceiling, but Al Schraw wasn't using it.

Instead, on a recent and very warm June morning, Schraw preferred to leave the shack's door open as he surveyed the U.S. Bank Plaza parking lot in downtown Fargo.

"It's a great job," Schraw said, referring to the post he's held part time for about a year and a half.

Before that, he worked at another downtown Fargo parking lot until that one became automated and no longer needed attendants.

And while Schraw likes spending his time monitoring the parking lot and cleaning up the area around U.S. Bank, he knows it may be a matter of time before that gig goes, too.

"You can't hold back progress," he said, making a reference to the Block 9 plaza project that is to be built on the U.S. Bank Plaza by Kilbourne Group, a Fargo-based development company.

Adrienne Olson, a Kilbourne Group spokeswoman, said groundbreaking for Block 9 is expected in late July.

The project, which envisions a high-rise with retail and office space, condos and a hotel, will include a parking ramp that will connect to the main plaza building by skyway. The project east of Broadway between Second and Third avenues north is expected to be complete in summer 2019.

The parking ramp will be used by RDO during the work day and then be open to the public after hours and on weekends, according to Olson, who said how the ramp will be operated has not yet been decided.

Schraw, 84, entered semi-retirement at 62. At that time, he was working for an insurance company.

He began working as a parking lot attendant about six years ago.

He finds the work fulfilling, he said, especially since losing his wife, Ione, about four years ago.

Without her, he said, life is "pretty lonesome," but Schraw said it helps to stay busy with his parking lot job, which he works at two or three days a week.

Also, he's been a member of the YMCA for more than 50 years, and Schraw said that four or five days a week he can be found there.

Scott Funfar, who shares parking lot attendant duties with Schraw, said when the U.S. Bank lot is gone there will be very few parking lots downtown still using attendants, and one belongs to a church, First Presbyterian.

Still, Funfar, 68, said the changes downtown have been mostly positive.

"It's so revitalized from what it was," he said.

During his turn watching over the U.S. Bank parking lot, Schraw took a walkabout, looking hardy as he patrolled the sidewalk next to U.S. Bank, sweeping up cigarette butts.

But, he said, the years and the miles have taken their toll.

"I've had two new knees, two hips and I've got a pacemaker," Schraw said as he described his main duty at the parking lot.

"This is for bank employees," he said. "If somebody doesn't have a little tag on their car, we talk to them and tell them this is for the employees. We get along fine," he said.

When the attendant booth at U.S. Bank Plaza goes away, the jobs that Funfar and Schraw hold will go as well, according to Roy Martinson, owner of Martinson's Maintenance Systems.

Martinson said he would then have just one parking lot attendant working for him, the one who covers the First Presbyterian Church.

But the pendulum may swing back someday when it comes to parking lots and people manning them, according to Martinson, who said he's heard stories out of the Twin Cities that some parking lots "are going back to attendants."

Dave Olson
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