BG at a crossroads with downtown parking

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Bowling Green is searching for just the ticket to solve its parking problems downtown. The city isn’t making enough from its downtown parking meters to pay for repaving the lots.

Initially, a proposal was made to double the parking rates from 25 cents to 50 cents an hour. But on Monday evening, City Council’s Finance Committee discussed options ranging from offering all free parking, to charging more for tickets, to charging citizens a special assessment.

Some downtown business owners and one citizen shopper weighed in on the issue. The discussion will continue Sept. 4, at 6 p.m., in the City Council chambers.

“Probably everybody needs a little time to discuss this report,” said Bruce Jeffers, head of the finance committee.

“I think we all understand there’s no parking that is free. It has to be paid by somebody,” Jeffers said.

Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter explained the options Monday evening to the council committee members Jeffers, Mike Aspacher and Greg Robinette.

The city’s downtown parking lots are struggling due to flat revenue, increasing costs and aging infrastructure. So the options are increasing the parking revenue, sharing the costs of maintaining the parking lots, or getting rid of some of the expenses.

Other Ohio college communities such as Kent and Oxford charge up to $1 an hour for parking. Toledo charges at least 50 cents per hour. However, no parking meters are used in Perrysburg, Defiance, Waterville, Findlay or Maumee.

Tretter presented the following ideas under each option.

Increase parking revenue:

  • Moving all the parking violation fees into the parking fund rather than sharing them with the city’s general fund. That move, however, would negate council’s efforts from last year to make up the general fund deficit with a garbage fee.
  • Add parking meters and charge a premium rate for on-street parking on Main and Wooster.
  • Increase the current parking rate as high as $1 per hour.

Share the costs:

  • Allocate the cost of maintenance to the downtown property owners.
  • Share the costs with all city property owners through a special assessment.

Reduce the costs:

  • Remove meters and enforcement, resulting in all free parking. This still leaves maintenance costs.
  • Go back to all meters.
  • Use meters for parking at premium rates on the street, with free parking behind the stores, which would reduce enforcement needs.
  • Out-source parking operations to a private entity.
  • Sell property for development and/or parking operations.

“We really feel we’re at a crossroads here,” Tretter said.

Two years ago, the city attempted to move toward the newer trend of parking kiosks. While some like the change, others have difficulty using the kiosks and avoid that parking lot.

“We’ve gotten pretty mixed reviews,” Tretter said. “We feel really torn.”

Aspacher asked about the cost sharing among downtown property owners. Tretter said the closer a property is to a parking lot, the more money would be charged. The average annual assessments ranged from $27 to $2,000 for owners of several properties in the downtown.

Aspacher also said he was intrigued by the possibility of all free parking in the downtown.

Some business owners shared that interest. However, some expressed concerns that they had never been approached about the options being considered.

Kati Thompson, owner of Eden Fashion Boutique, suggested there is a disconnect between the city and downtown business owners. “I was never approached as a business owner,” she said.

Thompson said she would be happy to absorb the cost of the parking assessments, if the parking would be free to customers.

“I do think parking can be a hinderance to people,” if they have to pay, she said.

Aspacher asked Thompson if she thought an increase to 50 cents an hour for parking meetings would hurt her business.

“I think it puts up one more barrier, and all those things add up over time,” she said.

Thompson said she also owns a shop in Sylvania, where all parking is free. With no time limit, shoppers “linger and shop the entire downtown and have lunch,” she said.

Ben Waddington, of Waddington Jewelers downtown, said parking has always been a “sticky situation.” The parking issue was made even worse when the kiosks were installed, and older customers did want to use them.

Waddington said he was told it would cost an average downtown business owner about $172 a year to pay for parking expenses, so parking could be free to customers.

“I think that would keep the downtown revitalized,” he said.

Nadya Shihadeh, owner of Qdoba, also said the kiosks are too complicated for some motorists. “It has got to be easy,” she said.

Shihadeh said she would be willing to pay an assessment to ensure free parking. However, she cautioned that there might be problems with college students leaving their cars downtown after a night at the bars.

Another option may be to really hike the costs of parking tickets, Shihadeh suggested.

Citizen Joy Potthoff, a retired BGSU professor, said free parking would help downtown businesses.

“They do need more customers,” she said, noting that free parking in Perrysburg and Findlay create a “more friendly atmosphere.”

The last major investment in the downtown was with the Heritage 2000 project – in which the city and downtown property owners shared in the expenses of the Special Improvement District, Tretter said.

Expenses of offering downtown parking include law enforcement personnel, lot maintenance, meters or kiosks, real estate taxes and fees for those who use credit cards at the kiosks.

The capital needs for the parking lots include repaving, which would cost about $22,000; enforcement vehicle every eight years, costing about $2,187; and replacing kiosks when needed, costing about $12,500.

The revenue from the parking fees in 2017 was $224,388. Some of that – from the meter violations – went into the city’s general fund. In 2017, that was $71,345.

Within the Special Improvement District boundaries there are a total of 607 parking spaces, which include:

  • 116 free on-street parking spaces on Main Street (two-hour)
  • 41 free on-street parking spaces on side streets (two-hour)
  • 46 on-street metered spaces (two- and 10-hour)
  • 404 parking spaces within city-owned parking lots (two- and 10-hour)

Within the “heart” of downtown, including Church, Court, Prospect and Clough streets, there are currently 496 total parking spaces, which include:

  • 56 free on-street parking spaces on Main Street
  • 38 free on-street parking spaces on side streets
  • 23 on-street metered parking spaces
  • 379 parking spaces within city-owned parking lots

The two-hour spaces are to encourage turn-over among downtown business customers. The 10-hour spaces are for downtown employees or residents.

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