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Fri, Oct. 18

Garage parking will be free, for now

PRESCOTT Using the theory that downtown employees will gravitate to free parking, city officials endorsed a plan this week to defer charging for the new downtown parking garage for as long as two years.

Although some members of the Prescott City Council voiced concerns, a majority ultimately agreed with the staff recommendation that parking should be free when the new Granite Street parking garage opens its doors in June.

City Manager Steve Norwood came out strongly in favor of allowing a trial period of at least a year and possibly as long as two years to allow the city to study the use of the downtown garage to determine how best to manage the new structure in the future.

And Norwood maintained that the best way to do that at the beginning is to offer free weekday parking in the garage. We cant charge in the garage and expect people to use it if theres still (free) two-hour parking downtown, Norwood told the council members.

Mayor Rowle Simmons agreed, noting that the city needs at least a year to determine what its real costs will be in operating the garage. He added that charging or imposing time limits in the garage would be defeating some of the purpose of having a garage.

Part of the problem I have with timed parking is it would be taking away one of the main things were trying to do (with the garage), Simmons said, and thats to get employees to stop parking on the street and running out every two hours to move their cars.

Several downtown business owners also advocated having a one- to two-year trial period of free parking.

Whiskey Row bar owner Tommy Meredith, for instance, agreed that employees would be less likely to use the garage if the city charged for parking. Many may be unable to afford a regular parking fee, Meredith said, and theyll find free parking elsewhere.

He advocated a parking-friendly policy in order to keep downtown Prescott on the right track.

Lenny Porjes, another downtown business owner, questioned the notion that the city must make the downtown parking garage pay for itself. Using the recent renovations of City Hall as an example, Porjes noted that the city does not charge a fee for people to sit in the council chambers as a means of covering the cost of the remodeling work.

And local resident George Seaman brought up the sales-tax reimbursements that the city has agreed to in recent years to attract large retailers. The city is very clearly giving incentives to all kinds of big boxes, Seaman said, adding that it doesnt make any sense at all to say the historical part of town shouldnt get the same consideration.

But some members of the City Council balked a bit at allowing free parking in a multi-million-dollar facility.

I have been brow-beat and brow-beat on having a $6 million facility that we are not charging for, said Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles. Everybody knows what we have into that garage, and it definitely has to pay for itself sometime.

Councilman Jim Lamerson suggested a compromise that would allow for free short-term parking, but charge for long-term parking. My objection to charging in the garage is it would be a penalty for people going to the garage, he said. But I could conceive of putting a parking fee after two or three hours.

Ultimately, Suttles and Lamerson agreed to a trial period to allow the city to work on its parking management policy.

Other points in the citys proposed garage management include:

The city would lease out a number of spaces within the garage, which would generate about $46,800 per year in revenue.

While the city would not charge for weekday parking, it would charge for special events and for summer weekend evenings generating about $61,000 per year.

The city would hire a number of part-time employees to operate the garage, at a cost of about $68,450. The employees would be on-hand at the garage from 6 to 10 a.m. and from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on non-event weekends, and from 5 to 9 p.m. on summer weekends.

The city would hire a private security firm, which would police the garage from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week.

The Prescott Police would provide occasional patrols in the garage from 3 to 6 a.m.

The city may hire a consultant during fiscal year 2007 to conduct a study of the entire downtown parking system.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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