Downtown: Revenues are up, but businesses still frustrated with parking situation

  • Some downtown Concord businesses are saying the parking situation remains challenging for their customers. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 5/5/2019 8:11:46 PM

Concord’s parking system had generated $2.1 million in revenue three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year.

More precisely, the amount of money the city has collected in the first nine months of the fiscal year is ahead of budget projections and is on pace to surpass the $2.4 million the city expected to take in over a 12 month period.

By comparison, the city generated $1.5 million in the same time frame last fiscal year, before it made big changes to the city’s parking system, raising parking rates, times where paid parking is required and the penalty for tickets.

The money side of the downtown parking equation is always a hot topic in the Capital City. Here’s what city administration and downtown businesses have to say about how the changes are going.

The city’s perspective

Metered parking is doing the heavy lifting on the revenue side, generating $1 million in revenue, or 94% of its annual budget, by March 31.

Meanwhile, parking penalty revenues were only at 67% of expected budget at the end of March, partially because the extra part-time parking enforcement employees were not (and still haven’t been) hired, partially because of the leniency the city granted motorists in July when the changes took effect, said Deputy City Manager of Redevelopment Matt Walsh.

Expenses were close to on mark, with $1.8 million of the $2.5 million budgeted, or 79%, spent at the three-quarter mark.

The changes were designed to make the parking fund self-sustaining, something it hasn’t been able to do in over a decade.

Walsh said the city is viewing the revenue returns in a positive light.

“I think overall we’re pleased that the changes seem to have been well-received by the community,” he said, citing anecdotal conversations.

For instance, he said parking garage revenues – not necessarily in the School Street garage, currently undergoing a multi-year, multi-million renovation – are up, indicating that people may be choosing to park there rather than on the street.

There’s also strong meter activity during “after work hours” from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Walsh said, showing strong nighttime activity in the downtown.

Lease permits have also exceeded expectations, with 120 permits issued for 90 spaces in the State Street garage. Walsh said people do not seem to have problems finding spaces.

“It puts us on a better footing not only to support the city’s economic development goals and future economic development in the downtown, but it puts the fund in a more financially stable position and will help us absorb some significant infrastructure expenses,” he said.

There is still work to be done. The city is hoping to introduce more smart meters (think the meters near the library that allow credit card usage stationed near parking spaces, as opposed to the periodic kiosks) by the summer, and get its parking website online.

It’s gotten easier to pay your tickets thanks to an online portal. And if you have feedback on the parking system, the city’s online survey will be live through June, Walsh said.

The view from downtown

Some downtown businesses say the situation remains challenging for their customers.

Laura Miller, the owner of Marketplace New England, said the additional enforcement on Saturday is frustrating for her and her customers.

“That’s when the locals would shop because they knew that they could come down and linger, go to the farmers market and hang out and really enjoy the town,” she said.

Miller also said people seemed discouraged by the increased fines associated with parking violations. Some of the changes included raising expired meters fines from $10 to $15; parking in a reserved space went from $20 to $25, and parking in a “no parking” area went from $15 to $20. Fines double if not paid in 10 days.

Amanda Perkins, of Gondwana & Divine Clothing Co., said customers don’t seem to know yet that parking in the garages is free on Saturdays.

Even if they do, they don’t know that the leased spaces in the School Street garage that take up the first few floors are only enforced Monday through Friday, causing them to drive to the top of the garage, she said.

Turnover is also a challenge, said Gondwana’s Sara Matthews. “We have people who circle and circle, and sometimes they don’t come in,” she said.

For Jane Van Dusen, owner of The Clean Take, being off Main Street has always been a challenge. Her cafe and take-home baked meals prep space has been tucked away in Capital Plaza for three and a half years, near Joe King’s and where the Capital Deli used to be. She estimates that 50% of her business is downtown worker foot traffic and 50% take-home meals.

The ongoing construction at the School Street garage and difficulty in finding a spot has driven some customers away from both revenue streams. Van Dusen said the situation is bad enough that she won’t be open on Saturdays this summer.

“It needed to be repaired,” she said, referring to the garage, “but I’m in the worst possible spot.”

Karen Walton, co-owner of custom framing company Rowland Studio, said the company’s move away from the mid-downtown location wasn’t just about parking; she needed a smaller space after the business stopped offering art supplies a few years ago.

But parking was a challenge for her customers, who often only needed to park long enough to drop off and pick up pieces. They often complained about having to carry artwork up flights of parking garage stairs or double parking in the street.

“It was rare that you’d be able to find a parking spot right in front of our (old) store,” Walton said.

The store’s new location on N. Main Street before the Main Street/Interstate 393 intersection has free two-hour parking right in front of the store. Walton said it suits her customers better.

No one expected the parking changes to be popular, but businesses owners thought there were a few ways the city could make things easier on motorists.

Increasing awareness of free garage parking on Saturdays was one idea; putting customer parking on the lower level of the School Street garage (reserved for leasers during the workweek) was another.

The ability to refill the meter remotely – say, from a smartphone – was another proposed solution. It’s still a priority for the city, Walsh said, but hasn’t happened yet.

Seasonal parking

Look alive, White Park/UNH Law School area residents. Next week’s City Council meeting will decide how parking works on the neighborhood’s narrow streets.

The parking committee identified dozens of streets in Wards 4, 5 and 6, as well as a few streets in Penacook and West Concord, that they considered problematic narrow streets. The area covers streets north, west and south of downtown, and neighborhoods surrounding the University of New Hampshire’s School of Law and White Park.

To be considered a “narrow street” a road must have less than 12-feet of travel way for vehicular travel whenever vehicles are parked on the roadway, according to the city. Streets with widths of less than 20 to 28 feet, depending on traffic volume, are not supposed to have any on-street parking at all. Many streets, however, do.

According to city documents, the parking committee is recommending changes to nine streets that will affect 84 parking spaces.

Street parking on Perry Avenue, Rowell Street and Chapel Street would go away altogether. Parking would be eliminated on one side of the road for Gordon Court and Cambridge Street. Academy Street would turn into a one-way street with parking on one side.

And then there’s the introduction of a calendar-based system, where street parking isn’t allowed during the winter months on certain thoroughfares. If adopted, parking won’t be allowed on Academy, Essex, Jackson and Montgomery streets all day from Jan. 1 to March 15.

Those dates were chosen, Walsh said, in order to avoid banning parking during the November/December holiday season and because the parking committee felt January to mid-March is the peak of the winter season and when long-lasting snow banks are most likely to occur.

About six of the Granite State’s 13 cities utilize a calendar-based winter parking ban.

Out of those, Concord’s proposal appears to be the least restrictive date-wise. Keene, Berlin, Franklin, Laconia and Claremont ban overnight parking starting in November; Manchester and Lebanon start in December. Most of the cities’ bans end sometime in April.

However, most of those bans are restricted to night-time hours and aren’t all-day, like Concord’s proposal.

A public hearing on the changes will take place prior to the city council’s discussion.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)



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