Visitors to downtown Raleigh will pay more for parking if city leaders heed the advice of experts.
Raleigh lacks the parking supply needed to meet future growth, and the city should charge more for on-street parking than deck parking, according to a study released Tuesday by consulting firm Kimley-Horn. The city paid the Raleigh-based company $200,000 to complete the study.
To generate more revenue and make more on-street parking available, consultants said the city should raise on-street rates from $1 an hour to $1.25 or $1.50 in high-demand areas like Salisbury Street, and consider using technology to automate metered parking enforcement.
Most of the city’s 1,300 on-street metered spaces are regulated from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the study recommends extending the hours to 9 or 10 p.m.
Kimley-Horn didn’t recommend raising the parking deck fee of $1 per half-hour but said deck parking should be metered around the clock, as it is in Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville and Wilmington. Currently, parking is free in Raleigh’s public garages after 5 p.m. except Fridays and Saturdays.
Consultants also said Raleigh should focus on partnering with the private sector, like it did when it bought spaces from Kane Realty, which is building the The Dillon tower in the warehouse district.
City Council members on Tuesday hesitated to commit to any of the recommendations. Mayor Nancy McFarlane said she’s open to them if city staff find that they’re warranted and won’t weaken the downtown economy.
“The thing to consider is service workers,” McFarlane said. “You can’t price stuff out to where they don’t want to come to work. It’s a bigger thing than just bumping things up 50 cents an hours.”
Zack Medford, co-owner of Paddy O’Beers and several other downtown bars, said higher parking rates would affect not only potential customers but also downtown workers. He said many of his employees are part time and can barely afford to park downtown to come to work.
“Just like rents have gone up to live downtown, parking spots are unaffordable for anyone in the service industry,” Medford said. “The city needs avoid the urge to look at businesses, employees and citizens who live downtown as a piggy bank.”
Council members Mary-Ann Baldwin and David Cox said they’re not convinced changes are needed, while Russ Stephenson said he’s interested in “balancing” the pricing so on-street parking costs more than deck parking. Most cities charge more for on-street parking than deck parking, but that’s not the case in Raleigh.
“I do like the idea that we should work the on-street spaces’ pricing so it’s coordinated with the deck prices,” Stephenson said.
Raleigh staff plan to talk to stakeholders before bringing proposed parking changes to the City Council for a vote, said Gordon Dash, a city parking administrator. It’s unclear how long that process will take.
Downtown business owners and advocates said they worried higher parking costs would deter potential customers. The city needs to prove a correlation between higher costs and parking availability before moving forward, said Jennifer Martin, executive director of Shop Local Raleigh, a retail advocacy group.
“I would hope that we would look at all these questions and determine what issue we’re trying to solve before we raise fees,” Martin said.
This is the second time in two years that Raleigh has considered raising parking rates.
In summer 2015, the City Council boosted parking deck rates and extended hours to charge $5 after 7 p.m. on weeknights and all day on weekends. A few months later, the council scrapped the weeknight fees and rolled back the weekend fees amid complaints from business owners who said they were losing money.
At the time, city leaders said the added fees were meant to deter rowdy nightlife and generate more funding to clean the parking decks. The new $5 parking deck fee on Friday and Saturday nights provided enough funding for the city to clean its decks four nights a week, rather than on a complaint-driven basis.
The city owns a combined 7,600 public parking spaces across garages and three surface lots in the area. Raleigh also manages 1,300 metered parking spaces and 3,400 un-metered but time-controlled parking spaces throughout downtown.
Consultants emphasized that the city will need more parking spaces soon. The city owns 40 percent of the downtown parking supply, but more than 90 percent of its deck parking is leased out. The study found that only 7 percent of all city spaces are available on a regular basis, leaving few spaces open for a free-flow of uses.
Meanwhile, a “major downtown employer” plans to add 200 employees annually for the next three years and will need more parking, said Fred Burchett, a Kimley-Horn representative.
“If that pace continues, it’ll eat up all of your excess space,” Burchett said.