Deja Vue…parking discussions continue

29 Feb Deja Vue…parking discussions continue

Few would challenge the assertion that since the 1930’s downtown parking has dominated the public conversation. Nor could one doubt that the respective city councils over these many years have conducted studies and made adjustments with the principal objective of ensuring turnover so that shoppers could find a space to park.

This year the City Council appointed a blue ribbon parking task force composed of downtown merchants and restaurateurs, leaders of neighborhoods that border downtown and even representatives of our valuable customers from outside of the city limits. Council gave them six months and stayed away from the conversations to not bias the results.  It was critical that task force members, without council bias,  could learn for themselves and present the best recommendations to improve our system.

Several months ago, I reported an extensive list of task force recommendations. Since then, as each of the recommendations was adopted, I wrote about them in my newsletter and the City sent news releases that were shared via newspapers and TV.

Unfortunately, from many of the emails and calls City Council members receive almost daily, it appears that some residents and visitors do not understand, or refuse to acknowledge,  some of the changes that have been implemented.

Changes in enforcement have just not sunk in so I am writing to remind you what we did and why we did it.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force and City Council changed the hours of enforcement to 11 am (when most shops open).   At the same time, the hours of enforcement were extended to 7 pm.  There were two reasons for this:

The first was that two hours of free parking in the morning would provide local shoppers free parking as the day starts. The second was to extend the hours as a means of ensuring that restaurant employees could not game the system in the evening by arriving once enforcement stopped and take up spaces for diners.

While I have not received complaints about the extra two hours of free parking in the mornings, I have heard from many who were surprised that hours were extended until seven.  Please note that the meters indicate the change with signage on the meter itself and white tags that serve as an additional reminder.

Also note that the city is in the process of adding downtown spaces with less expensive rates for longer parking and even further reduced rates for employees who work downtown. The first step to implementing these new spaces is the area behind the former Bank of American building.  Consideration is being given to respiring the marina lot to add even more spaces. However, the marina spaces may require removing some of the trees and planted islands which would be unfortunate as the greenery softens the visual impact of a parking lot on one of the city’s most coveted and valuable land.

Furthermore, the Blue Ribbon Task Force is reviewing proposals for at least three parking experts to explore sites for a garage that fits into the downtown mass and space.  The challenge is that a garage will cost considerably more than parking fees will pay for so additional capital, not currently on the radar, will be needed.  The city has again submitted a garage and dollars to open up the green space near the marina to the County Sales Tax Commission as we did last year. The jury is out as to whether the county will put this on the ballot.

Meanwhile City Council, staff and members of the task force continue to look for more options.

The parking discussion has been on the table for years. We must continually look for new spaces as business, fortunately, is growing.

We must also look for spaces that could be lost as the private sector explores ways of better utilizing their small private lots to build retail, dining and residential options. This is something we want. For it to take place, we have to find ways to accommodate.