By Jessica Lovell
Bringing back paid on-street parking downtown is not the best plan for the core, says Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams.
“We officially at the DGBA are in favour of the current system,” he said.
That current system allows visitors to the downtown to park on the street for free for up to two hours. But putting an end to that is just one of the measures city hall is eyeing for a new downtown parking plan. Other proposals that might not be favourable to the downtown merchants include increases in permit, hourly and Saturday parking rates and a levy on downtown property owners. It’s meant to help pay for the cost of building structured parking in the downtown.
“None of these things can be implemented without a comprehensive plan,” said Williams. “It’s a fragile ecosystem, the parking ecosystem.”
The proposal to bring back paid on-street parking is projected to raise more than $17 million over 20 years.
In order for the plan to work though, the downtown would need to have the economic activity to support it, said Williams.
He doesn’t believe economic activity in the downtown has reached that level yet, and he is concerned that asking people to pay for parking would have a stifling effect.
“You have the potential to decrease economic activity,” he said. This is because it would have the effect of isolating the downtown, making it unlike all other business areas in the city where parking is free.
The concern is “all the negative reaction and the perception that it’s difficult, it’s costly and it’s different from other public space,” Williams said.
When the time comes that on-street parking spaces in the downtown are at such a premium that charging to park becomes justified, it would need to be implemented in an intelligent way, said Williams.
“The key words are smart and flexible,” he said.
It should include different pricing for different zones and different times of day; options for no-cost short-term parking for quick errands like grabbing a cup of coffee or mailing a package; grace periods; and smart technologies that help patrons find available parking in the downtown, Williams said. “It needs to be attractive to people and not a deterrent,” he said.
There are buildings in the downtown that are vacant partly because the lack of available permit parking makes them unattractive to new enterprise, he said.
Creating more structured parking would open the door for new enterprise and allow more economic activity. And although levies are not generally popular solutions, merchants might be willing to share the pain if they could see the benefits, Williams said.
“I think it’s an idea that’s worth exploring,” he said.
Right now, the proposal of a levy is still in the idea phase, leaving a lot of unknowns, said Williams. It is just one of the ideas on the table – like the idea of paid on-street parking.
Getting rid of downtown parking meters was something Mayor Karen Farbridge campaigned for in 2006. While she says it was the right thing to do at the time, she won’t say what she thinks of the idea to revert back to paid parking.
“During this term, I have defended the need to do a comprehensive review of parking needs in the downtown before making any decisions regarding free on-street parking,” Farbridge said in an email to the Trib. “I supported conducting a comprehensive review and look forward to the consultation and further refinement of its findings,” she said.
Moving to free on-street parking was the right decision given the economic challenges the downtown was facing at the time, said Farbridge. But things may have changed since then. “I would be interested in understanding whether the conditions in the downtown have shifted to support a different approach to the management of this asset that would be in the best interests of the downtown property owners, merchants and the city as a whole,” she said.
By Jessica Lovell