HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Anyone who has tried to find street parking on a busy night or weekend in downtown Huntsville is probably familiar with the challenge that it can be.

As restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues draw in more customers, it can make the free parking options seem far and few between.

For those in a pinch to find parking, a wide open lot can seem enticing. However, you may want to take a closer look before pulling into just any lot, because more and more lots are charging parking fees.

That’s a lesson Joshua Mills learned the hard way. He said when he goes downtown on the weekends to meet up with friends, he just wants to find a place to park. “You’re in a hurry to get where you’re trying to go, people are kind of rushing you a little bit,” Mills said.

Recently, Mills parked in the parking lot at the corner of Spring & Spragins downtown. Signs posted inside the lot say the parking is for a bank on the property.

The Trustmark Bank parking lot at the corner of Spring Street & Spragins Street in Huntsville.

Since it was after bank hours, Mills thought he was good to go. Unfortunately for Mills, he missed some of the posted paid-only parking signs in the lot.

“I even checked before I left, and I still don’t remember seeing anything,” he said. “Of course it’s dark it’s at night.”

Weeks after his visit to downtown, Mills said he got a letter in the mail containing a parking citation. However, it wasn’t from the City of Huntsville, it was from Bird Dog Parking.

“I opened it, and it’s a letter from a parking company in Chattanooga,” he said. “It really wasn’t marked well, there were no logos or anything on the envelope, but it was letting me know that I had received a ticket for parking, I hadn’t paid, and that I owed them a fee of $45.”

Mills said he questioned the legitimacy of the company.

“Just based on how unprofessional looking the letter was, I didn’t really want to give them any kind of information, you know debit card number or anything like that,” Mills said.

Mills’ story isn’t unique. Another News 19 viewer told us they also recently received a ticket from Bird Dog Parking, however, they parked in a different parking lot downtown.

That viewer said they had also parked at a bank, and because it was after business hours and they didn’t see any posted signs, they thought they were fine. The viewer, who didn’t want to go on camera, said he had been parking there for occasional events downtown for years, never with any trouble.

When News 19 drove around Huntsville on Thursday, Bird Dog’s presence was clear. We saw several parking lots, all with Bird Dog Parking signs in front of them, indicating that they were paid lots. The signs instruct people to use a QR code or text a number so they can pay with a debit/credit card on their phone.

Bird Dog Parking is the parking partner of the Huntsville Museum of Art, and there are clear signs in the parking lot. Parking is free for museum patrons, if it is validated, however, it is $10 for 12 hours for anyone who would like to park there.

While the company is contracted out, the security department of the Huntsville Museum of Art said they were considering working with a different company.

When News 19 pulled into the Huntsville Museum of Art’s parking lot to take a look at the posted signs, we were stopped by a group of ladies confused by the parking situation.

While there were signs with QR codes posted, one woman said she didn’t know how to pay, because she had forgotten her phone. She said she would rather park at a more traditional paid-parking lot where she can use coins or a credit card in an on-site machine. Others in her group said they found it frustrating that so many lots downtown are now charging for parking.

Bird Dog Parking has been a registered business within Huntsville city limits since 2021, as Bird Dog Parking, LLC. While there presence may not be new, it would appear they are working with more private parking lot owners than before.

News 19 has reached out via multiple avenues to try and get in contact with Bird Dog Parking. However, we have not received a response.

We have asked how many & what parking lots are now paid lots and have not been given an answer. We also inquired when the permanent paid-parking signs were installed.

News 19 is also working on getting an answer for what happens if you don’t pay a Bird Dog Parking ticket. There is no information listed publicly on Bird Dog’s website as to what the repercussions are. Since Bird Dog is a private company, working with private business owners, the parking citations differ from ones issued by the City of Huntsville.

When we did not receive answers from Bird Dog Parking, we reached out to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The Bird Dog Parking review page on the BBB’s website has a 1.3/5 star average customer rating.

There were many less-than-stellar reviews from customers in Huntsville.

Since Bird Dog is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, complaints about the company are handled by the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.

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The Better Business Bureau sent News 19 the following statement in regard to Bird Dog Parking:

“BBB has seen an increase in businesses contracting with parking management companies to manage the use of their private parking lots by non-customers. Some use the services to manage the availability of spaces for their customers, however, many businesses are also finding value in using a parking management company to generate revenue for the use of their property after hours, and to offset the cost of  maintaining a lot. As the use has grown, BBB has also seen a growth in complaints against parking management companies, which has not been unique to Bird Dog Parking.

Bird Dog Parking uses QR codes, texting, and offers their website on their signage. In their conversations with BBB, they have noted that their rates are displayed before an individual makes the decision to go forward with parking, therefore providing the opportunity for the driver to move their vehicle if they are not in agreement with the charges.

The company has been responsive to BBB complaints by addressing the concerns that are outlined in the complaints, or by explaining why their company has issued a ticket. In several cases, BBB visited the parking lot to review signage and found that the company had clearly marked signs notifying drivers that parking fees are charged. The cost and times when parking is charged can vary depending on the agreement with the owner of the private parking lot that is involved.

Individuals who are parking in a lot to attend an appointment but don’t have the technology to scan the QR code can provide their license plate to the company they’re visiting so they can be added as an approved patron of the business.  As a an organization that owns a building with an accompanying private parking lot, we understand the concerns related to liability that could come even when a non-customer parks in the parking lot, as well as the cost to repair wear and tear. We believe that in addition to the need for private businesses to be able to offer parking to their patrons, these are two key aspects as to why companies are turning more and more to parking management.”

Michele Mason, President & CEO, Better Business Bureau of SE Tennessee & NW Georgia

The BBB said Bird Dog Parking is a BBB Accredited business since it does work with customers to resolve issues.

The BBB has also investigated several customer complaints of Bird Dog’s operation in Huntsville. President & CEO Michele Mason said she personally visited one of the lots in Huntsville where a customer had reported that they had received a ticket. Mason said there was posted signage in the lot.

The Better Business Bureau told News 19 that paid-parking lots may become more common in the City of Huntsville. The BBB says private land owners have every right to enforce parking rules on their property.

Joshua Mills said his advice to fellow downtown patrons is to take a second look when finding a place to park. If you park there, pay the posted parking fee so you don’t end up with a ticket.

“Definitely pay more attention, try to look where ever you can to find signs, even if you’re in a hurry and you think there’s nothing, be sure to check around the lot,” he said.

News 19 took a look and the parking rates at the Trustmark parking lot at the corner of Spring St. & Spragins St. are $4 for one hour, $6 for hours, and up. The maximum amount offered was eight hours of parking for $9 total.

News 19 will update this article if we hear back from Bird Dog Parking.