By Sally Gillie, Monitor
Before making any changes to time limits for parking in downtown Monroe, the city council says it wants to get more feedback from local businesses and residents.
The city has proposed taking out the two-hour parking restrictions on East and West Main Streets and extending them to four-hour time limits, but local businesses and council members questioned whether local shoppers or out-of-town visitors spend that much time in the downtown district. Other changes in the parking proposal include creating nine new 15-minute parking zones along or adjacent to the Main Street corridor and on Fremont Street.
The suggested changes were prompted in part from a visitor assessment study conducted several years ago by Destination Development International, a public relations firm specializing in destination marketing. The reasoning behind the longer parking times is in keeping with Monroe’s goal to be a destination city; that, by allowing longer time limits, out-of-town visitors would spend more time, and subsequently more dollars, here.
“It’s the four-times rule,” said Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Annique Bennett.
“If someone drives here in 15 minutes, they will spend an hour,” she said, “and if they come from an hour away, they have four hours for activities here.” Bennett said parking is a matter of concern that comes up frequently with merchants, and the issue is a complex one because downtown has a mix of businesses and residents who have different parking needs.
Paula Fortier, owner of Main Clothing and president of DREAM, the Downtown Revitalization and Enhancement of Monroe Association, said there is a case to be made for extending parking times. She said a woman shopping in her store recently asked if there was a good place to eat in town, and so Fortier directed her to the Hitching Post a block away.
“The woman went up there to eat, came back, and when she came back had a parking ticket on her car,” said Fortier. “Just in the time it took her to shop here and eat lunch.”
But others questioned whether four-hour limits are appropriate for downtown when there are longer parking options nearby and small businesses need to rely on a turnover of customers.
In his 26 years as a downtown merchant, Sky Valley Bakery owner Andrew Abt has a long perspective on the parking situation. Customers coming to his business on West Main can find it difficult to get a spot nearby, he said, and allowing for four-hour time limits means those few parking spaces outside his door could get occupied for twice as long.
“That’s just counterproductive,” he told the council, “especially in this economy.”
The change to longer times, he said, “hurts small businesses, even the loss of a few customers makes a difference in these times.”
Councilman Kevin Hanford said, “I wonder whether we’re ahead of schedule here by changing the parking hours,” suggesting that it might be a good idea to wait until the downtown core has been built up more.
“That gives people more ways to spend money, before making changes,” he said.
“I’ve never parked in one place for four hours,” agreed Councilman Ed Davis, who said he’s been shopping in Monroe for 20 years. He said he would like more information about what benefits the four-hour parking would provide the city before making a decision.
Councilman Tom Williams said that, before moving forward, he would like a clearer definition of what problems the city would like to resolve regarding parking, and the desired outcome.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “you just want to know you can get to a business easily.”
Parking enforcement was seen to be a key to the success of any parking improvements in downtown. Fortier told the council that enforcement was a real issue at her West Main Street store, with local residents who sometimes park by her building for days.
“I don’t care what the time limits are; if there’s no enforcement, it doesn’t do a lot of good,” she said.
After discussion, it was decided the parking matter would be further reviewed by the city’s transportation and planning committee, which would seek input from the Monroe Chamber and DREAM before moving forward with recommendations. That committee consists of council members Jim Kamp, Ed Davis and Patsy Cudaback.