Newly hired city planner Ellen Shadle gave a presentation on downtown parking to the city council, explaining the city is missing out on revenue due to the free parking. Shadle said that the city loses revenue by not having meters in the current Downtown Free Parking Zone and is also resulting in an under-utilization of the city’s public parking garages and lots.
According to Shadle, the city is losing as much as $117,400 each year by not charging in the free parking zone, under the current rate of 50 cents an hour. That number jumps to over $230,000 if the city were to increase hourly parking rates to $1.
She also told the council that there is no such thing as “Free Parking” because parking spaces can all be attributed to having a cost and value.
“Free parking is never really free. Ultimately, in terms of the cost to own and operate an automobile, we are passing that off to the city or our fellow taxpayers to provide a parking space for the vehicles. So, thank you for paying for my parking spot when I come downtown and park in the free zone. Likewise, I’m also paying for you to park for free as well. So free parking is really never free.”
Shadle also argued that by not charging for the spaces, the city is not getting a fair market return on the actual value of the spaces, pointing to studies out of larger metropolitan areas that put a premium price on parking spaces, stating their real estate value is higher than the actual value of most of the vehicles that park on them. However, there is a difference between the value of on-street parking spaces and the value of multiple parking spaces within a parking lot that can be developed for another purpose. Shadle didn’t clarify if she was referring to the real estate value of an on-street parking space, or of a parking space found within a lot.
City Councilwoman Tamu Graham-Reinhardt asked Shadle if she had any comparative data or information comparing Jamestown to other cities of similar size and socioeconomic challenges, and she admitted that she had taken a “silo” approach to evaluating Jamestown’s downtown parking situation.
When city council woman Marie Carrubba mentioned that downtown business owners would be opposed to removing the free parking, Shadle countered by saying a city parking enforcement employee claimed business owners are the ones who mostly use the free parking.
“It confuses her that a business owner would express fears that they would lose patronage due to a lack of free parking in front of their business, when the business owner is the one who is parking there,” Shadle said.
Prior to Shadle’s presentation, the city clerk read a correspondence from city resident and downtown property owners Peter Miraglia, who voiced some concern about removing the free parking zone from downtown.
“I believe the high rate of utilization in the free zone is partially created because the spaces are surrounded by pay parking, and not necessarily by demand created by businesses in the zone. I believe utilization there will drop significantly if it becomes metered, and that overall visits to downtown will decrease,” Miraglia stated in his letter to the council.
“In the almost 20 years, that I have been actively involved downtown, I have felt that the ‘parking system’ has been downtown’s greatest impediment to growth. When I visit very active and successful downtowns like Saratoga Springs, and Owego, who offer free on and off street parking, I wonder why Jamestown continues to make coming to downtown so challenging,” Miraglia concluded.
Council president Tony Dolce said the issue will likely be discussed by the council in the future and no action is expected during this month’s voting session on Oct. 26.
Three years ago the council also considered eliminating the free parking zone, but the idea was eventually tabled.
Meanwhile, the council also discussed a plan to increase downtown metered parking by 50 cents an hour and also increase fines by $5. The increase is built into the mayor’s 2021 city budget.
That was also met with some concern and additional discussion will likely take place prior to any action by the council.