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Still want free parking downtown? You'll have to walk for it

Brian Pahle received a cool response when he asked people gathered for Business Morning Update last week, “Who’s excited to pay for parking?”

Repeating a theme parking consultants have been telling the council for years, Pahle said parking can be free, convenient or available — just not all three at once.

“You can only have two of the three. It’s either available and convenient, convenient and free or available and free,” he said. “On Washington Street and Grove Street, you go over there, it’s free and available. We also have free and convenient parking on Main Street right now. It’s high quality, it’s the best parking you can get. It’s rarely available.”

The new metered parking, which people will pay for via kiosks or the parkmobile app, is designed to raise the revenue needed to meet the debt service on the city’s new $13 million parking deck. Here are the new parking rates starting March 1:

  • Main Street and the avenues between Church and King streets, $2/hour, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
  • City-owned surface lots, $1.50/hour, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
  • Parking deck, $1.50/hour, 24/7, 365 days/year.
  • The first hour is free in the parking deck and surface lots. The first half hour is free on Main Street and the avenues.

Around 230 people have signed up to lease parking spaces in the Dogwood lot, around 80 are signed up for four other interior lots and 55 have signed leases for the parking deck.

Discussion of a downtown parking deck has been going on since 2000, when a feasibility study ordered by the City Council identified three potential sites for a garage.

“Fast forward 15 years, another study commissioned by Dixon parking consultants also recommended the building of a parking garage,” Pahle said. “So council decided in early 2020 to move forward with building a new parking garage downtown. And with that we knew we would have to pay.” The city got buy-in from downtown stakeholders, too. “We would not be doing this if the downtown businesses had not come out and said, ‘Yes, we are ready to do this,’” Pahle said.

Since the city has no experience with the new parking scheme and rates, it will be looking at how much money the new street parking, surface lot and parking deck raises.

“We have not had a parking services fund downtown before so we don’t have any prior years’ data to go off of,” Pahle said. “We essentially said, ‘Here’s the model we’re looking at, here’s our business plan (and asked) XYZ bank, Will you loan us the money to build this deck?’ They said yes and the best part about it is on the backside of all this we’ll observe what happens throughout the year. If things turn out better than expected, council can make a decision to lower rates or adjust how they see fit.”

As for “free and available” parking, those hardy and stubborn souls determined not to pay for parking downtown have options. Park anytime on Church, King, Grove or Washington streets or even on Main Street after 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and all day Sunday — provided there is a “convenient and available” space.

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For an overview and timeline of the parking deck project visit this site.  Check out the parkmobile app here.