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Fri, Oct. 18

City seeks voluntary cooperation on downtown parking problems

PRESCOTT - The push apparently is on in downtown Prescott to get drivers to use the public parking garage.

After removing a proposed $1 million appropriation from their budget for parking meters this past week, Prescott City Council members were left this week with determining how best to use the 2,000 or so downtown parking spaces that are available.

One of the major issues: encouraging drivers to venture into the Granite Street parking garage, which regularly is only about half-full.

During a workshop on Tuesday, council members heard a number of ideas, including installing more noticeable signs to let drivers know about the garage; working with Yavapai County to try to get court jurors to use the garage; and encouraging business owners and their employees to use the garage.

Administrative Services Director Mic Fenech began the discussion by pointing out that all city parking currently is free, except for the 30 days spread out through the year that the city charges $5 for use of the parking garage during special events.

Otherwise, he said, the 1,088 on-street parking spaces, as well as the 500 spaces in the garage, and another several hundred in public off-street parking lots, are free. And many of those allow for a full day of parking. The 500 garage spaces, as well as 361 of the on-street parking spaces and the off-street lots, have no time limit. The remainder have either two-hour or 30-minute time limits.

City officials have maintained in the past that it is difficult to get drivers to use the garage when they can find free parking on the street.

That, in turn, has resulted in a situation in which drivers often circle the block looking for a parking space on the street.

It also has encouraged what city officials call the "two-hour shuffle," in which downtown employees and tourists in the prime two-hour spaces move their cars every two hours to avoid getting a parking ticket.

Fenech noted that the city currently has 18 directional signs on its streets alerting drivers to the parking garage.

But city officials acknowledge that the signs have been less than effective. "The 18 signs we have obviously are not working," City Manager Steve Norwood said.

He added that he has heard suggestions from local residents who say the signs should let drivers know that the parking garage is free - a distinction that might attract more tourists to the garage.

To deal with the 30 special-event fee days in the garage, Norwood said the city could opt for changeable signs.

The discussion also focused on the number of downtown business owners and employees who occupy downtown parking spaces while they are working.

"The real problem is employers and employees parking in the street, and that's the simple fact," Tommy Meredith, owner of the Jersey Lilly Saloon on Whiskey Row, told the council.

Even so, Meredith urged the city to work with employers to encourage use of the garage, "rather than overreact with meters."

While most council members appeared to agree that the city should work to encourage workers to use the garage, they heard from one business owner who emphasized the problems with that.

Lex Guinn of Lyzzard's Lounge pointed out that his Cortez Street location, along with the bar's late hours, make parking in the garage difficult for his employees.

With the business closing at 2 a.m., Guinn said, "Our employees will not go to the parking garage."

After the meeting, Mayor Marlin Kuykendall said the city would take the approach of working with Yavapai County and downtown groups such as the Prescott Downtown Partnership "to see if we can voluntarily get cooperation."

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