Parking in downtown Raleigh didn’t used to be much of a problem because there wasn’t much going on in the city’s core. But as downtown has been revitalized with residents, restaurants and performing venues, fees to park have increased. Officials say they need the money to maintain city decks and clean graffiti and other chronic problems on elevators.
Now the city council has voted to institute, effective New Year’s Eve, a $5 fee for the decks after 6 p.m. Access to public parking had been free on nights and weekends.
Residents can be sympathetic to the city’s problem in maintaining the decks. But downtown business owners have an alternative that sounds reasonable: Charge the fee after 9 p.m., which would give restaurant patrons a break and perhaps even encourage more retail in downtown, given that shoppers can park in malls for free.
David Meeker, co-owner of Busy Bee Cafe, Trophy Brewing and State of Beer, said: “How can we say we’re encouraging retail if we’re charging folks to come down to shop?” Exactly.
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In bigger cities, downtown parking is expensive, but those downtowns offer retail venues that people can’t find at malls, and the customer bases are large. And in downtowns, rents for businesses are higher. The owners and managers don’t need the additional disincentive for customers of parking fees.
City parking officials have to look at expenses, it’s true. That’s their focus. But council members have to take a larger view, and in this case that is to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible for people to come downtown. Raleigh’s center has undergone a breathtaking transformation, and city officials shouldn’t forget that it was the property taxes and bonds approved by local citizens that made the revitalization possible.
Perhaps patrols by law officers around the parking decks should be increased to stop vandalism and to prevent parking elevators and parking deck corners from becoming hangouts. If police could break people of the habit of hanging out in the decks and using the space for drinking and drugs, the cost of maintaining and cleaning the decks might decline.
Boosting the parking fees too much hurts all the innocent bystanders in this issue, from restaurant employees to shop owners. And it hurts the patrons who’d like to do their part to keep downtown vibrant. Let’s try the 9 p.m. fee for six months and see what happens.