Parking needs and challenges in the downtown area were discussed at a stakeholder meeting Tuesday afternoon.
This is one of the steps in a parking study by Rich and Associates Parking Consultants began this week, and should be completed by September. It is being paid for out of revenue from parking meters and the sale of parking permits.
This particular meeting included several property owners from the downtown area. The idea was to get a cross-section of a lot of different kinds of uses of the area, said Stephanie Houk Sheetz, senior city planner.
"We're beginning the the input-gathering process," said Parking Planner Annaka Norris. "We're getting input from business owners, customers, people who use the downtown."
Senior Parking Planner David Burr asked the owners what their biggest concerns were, what their customers noticed, and what was working well.
Matt Doyle, owner of the Snell building, said lack of close parking has caused tenants to leave his building in the past.
"In a seven story building, I've got two empty floors," Doyle said.
At First Baptist Church, the Rev. Jim Laupp said some members object to the parking meters.
"My church is the only one with meters in front of it," Laupp said. "I have members who will not come downtown because the meters are back."
He said parking doesn't come free, though.
"To me, 25 cents an hour, that's cheap," he said.
Free parking still has a cost, even at private businesses, said Burr. Someone still has to pay for upkeep of the parking lot.
"At the mall, you're still paying for that parking," said Art Bacon, of St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
People who never shop downtown aren't going to volunteer their taxes to pay for parking, Gibson said. Instead, the cost has to come from those who use it.
Visitors to St. Mark's don't always realize how long free parking is for, and are surprised to come out and find a $15 parking ticket, said Bacon.
Laupp said consistent enforcement is sometimes an issue. In the past, he said cars in two-hour spots sometimes have been ticketed up to 10 minutes early.
Burr said the firm has some suggestions and best practices in terms of enforcement.
Eventually, the plan calls for more of the downtown one or two-hour spaces to be metered, Laupp said. This is really the best way to simplify enforcement.
"If it's green, you're good, if it's not your not," said Nate Gibson, owner of Access Audio. "It's obvious, there's no room for interpretation."
The firm also wants to determine how far people are willing to walk. Sometimes people expect to be able to park right in front of the door, Doyle said. But that's not always feasible in an old neighborhood, built before so many people had cars, Gibson said.
Some of it is perception, Burr said. People will walk longer distances at a superstore parking lot, because they can see the door, while walking a shorter distance downtown can feel longer.
"It's as much education as anything else," Gibson said.
Some things that are being done well include reasonable pricing scales, Norris said. The more convenient lots cost slightly more, while those farther away are cheaper.
The parking meters downtown have also led to more spaces available for customers.
The city also does a good job supporting downtown parking using just the parking money, not other taxes, said Laupp.
"I understand the parking system is now self-sufficient," he said. "The lot across the street from us, on North 10th Street, was completely redone. My understanding it was $300,000, and it was totally meter money. Not one dime of property taxes. I consider that something that's right."
Any talk of building a multi-level parking structure downtown would be far in the future, Burr said, since these are very expensive. Part of this planning is to determine what conditions might trigger the need for such a structure.
The study will examine the needs of today and where things will be in five to 10 years. A preliminary report should be ready by the end of July or early August, Burr said.
Open houses will be held today from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. at the Growth Alliance building, 24 N. Ninth St. A joint workshop with the City Council and SSMID will be held 5 p.m. at the City Council chambers. An online survey will be available from June 16-30 on www.ssmidfd.com.