Jamestown city councilman and finance committee chair Tony Dolce told WRFA Wednesday that he will recommend tabling the proposal when the Jamestown City Council holds its monthly voting session on Monday, Dec. 18. Dolce said the proposal would then likely go back to committee for further discussion and also to allow the business community an opportunity to learn more about why it’s being proposed and also offer feedback.
The proposal to eliminate the free parking zone downtown came from a series of recommendations put forward by the mayor’s Ad Hoc Parking Committee, which was formed in 2016 to identify and recommend improvements to downtown parking in anticipation of increased traffic volume with the opening of the National Comedy Center. In November the committee presented its recommendations to the city council.
This past Monday night during a city council’s work session, the public safety committee reported it had reviewed the proposal to eliminate the free parking zone and approved that it be brought forward for a full council at the next voting session on Monday, Dec. 18.
The free parking is located along Third Street between Washington and Spring Streets, as well as along Pine Street, Main Street, and Cherry Streets – between second and fourth Streets. In all there are an estimated 200 free spaces that can be used for up to two hours each day by motorists visiting downtown.
During Monday’s work session councilman Brent Sheldon asked if downtown businesses were made aware and supported the proposal to eliminate free parking. Councilwoman and public safety committee member Marie Carrubba responded by saying downtown businesses were represented on the parking committee.
“There were business people involved in the proposal and it was their recommendation. They came [to the council] a couple of weeks ago and said this is what they wanted. Now whether or not every business is in agreement with it, I can’t say, but it was the consensus of that committee that this is what needed to be done,” Carrubba said.
The parking committee listed a total of 16 members, with three of them (Quick Solutions, Labyrinth/Brazil, Reg Lenna Center for the Arts) coming from the dozens of businesses situated in the downtown. It was also comprised of representatives from Jamestown Community College, All Pro Parking (which manages two downtown parking ramps), a downtown property owner, and two staff members from the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation. Eight city staff members rounded out the membership. The recommendations presented last month were the culmination of nearly a year-and-a-half of meetings and discussion by the committee.
DOWNTOWN BUSINESSES SAY THEY WERE NOT INCLUDED IN RECOMMENDATION PROCESS
Since announcing the council would vote to eliminate free downtown parking, community members and downtown businesses have asked questions and expressed concerns about the proposal to both the council and on social media.
On Wednesday WRFA talked to 15 different restaurants and retail businesses located in the free parking zone. Every single one that we talked to and which was not already on the committee said they were never approached by the committee to seek their input for the downtown parking recommendations. In addition, the majority of those 15 businesses said they are opposed to removing free 2-hour parking.
One of those businesses was Lander’s Men’s Store on N. Main St. Co-owner Cliff Powers said he and his wife were very surprised and disappointed when they learned about the proposal.
“Nobody asked me any questions whatsoever which was kind of a shock when I read it in the Newspaper. It was the fist time I had seen anything about it. I had no idea it was even going on,” Powers said. “I think the smart thing would have been to ask the businesses that would be impacted their thoughts and find out if it would help our hurt them. It’s foolishness. You’re supposed to check with them.”
WRFA also spoke with some members of the parking committee, who admit that no formal survey or outreach was conducted to get input from downtown businesses as part of the overall recommendation process, but some committee members did have informal conversations with some of the downtown businesses.
Part of the reason why the committee is recommending the removal of free parking is because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to fully enforce the 2-hour maximum limit and the system has been abused by some downtown residents and business employees since it was first put in place two decades ago. They also say that by eliminating the free zones, it will reduce confusion by creating more uniformity in downtown parking rules, as well as helping to prevent increased traffic congestion by having increased turnover in parking availability.
However, Powers said he believes the real reason is revenue.
“I read in the paper they said it was because of traffic jams. There’s no traffic jams. I don’t know how many people have been caught in a traffic jam in the middle of Jamestown, but if you have, let me know,” Powers said, adding, “The way it’s set up now is perfect. They sit there two hours. They get their tires marked. They have a very good turnover. Very easy for our customers to come in and out so it works perfectly. Putting the meters back in is only for one reason: to get more money.”
Both committee members and city officials have told WRFA that revenue was not a factor when making the recommendation.
There are an estimated 200 free parking spots in the downtown. If a meter was added to each space, under the current rate of $0.50 an hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., it would have the potential to generate $4 in revenue per space per day. That would amount to the potential for as much as $200,000 in revenue for the city over the course of a year. However, because of other factors and committee recommendations (reducing cost of parking in the outer areas of downtown, reduction in free zone fines, etc., unlikelihood each space would generate full amount of potential revenue), it’s difficult to project the net profit or even the net loss the elimination of free parking would have on the city’s bottom line.
City officials say that even if the elimination of the free parking were approved, it still may not go into effect until several months later, depending on whether or not the city could secure the grant funding that would be needed to pay for the purchase and installation of the meters.