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Officials of the city of Toledo want to create a "consistent and enjoyable experience" for those who visit downtown entertainment venues.
Translation: Get ready to pay more to park downtown, possibly a lot more.
The city is cracking down on unlicensed parking lots -- some charging as little as $5 to park -- and at least one downtown business owner socked by the city thinks the crackdown could lead to motorists getting "gouged."
Tom Crothers, the deputy mayor for external relations, last week sent letters warning 35 downtown parking lot owners that they need a license to charge people to park.
"We're trying to make sure that the experience is consistent and enjoyable for everyone coming downtown to visit businesses near these facilities," Mr. Crothers said.
The deadline to apply for the license is today, and the lots of those who fail to comply will be closed down by Toledo police, according to the letter. Licenses cost $500 for the first year and $150 in following years for lots up to 6,000 square feet, and $275 for bigger lots.
The city will allow owners of parking lots that are not yet in compliance with requirements such as paving and striping to get a conditional license for 2011.
Enforcement of the city ordinance that dates to 1952 could spell the end of the grassy and gravel lots that have become popular for people attending baseball games at Fifth Third Field and concerts or hockey games at Huntington Center. Supporters of the enforcement effort say it creates a level playing field.
"We have some people who comply with the Toledo Municipal Code and some people who don't. We think we ought to treat everyone equally," Mr. Crothers said.
But Ann Albright, who has two parking lots for her Swan Creek Candle Co. business in the Warehouse District downtown, said it's inappropriate to enforce parking-lot standards on lots that are used only on special events.
"There has been some pressure by some of the larger lots to raise our prices. They come around and they grumble and they say, 'You're not licensed, you've got to raise your prices.' We won't," Ms. Albright said.
"If they enforce this there's going to be a lot of angry customers. When they charge $20 for the Mud Hens, it really ticks people off. It's gouging. They're going to get as much as they can get," Ms. Albright said.
She sells up to 14 spaces for $10 each in a lot across Washington Street from the baseball stadium.
At a second lot, at Lafayette and Superior streets, which is about 80 percent paved with concrete or asphalt, she sells the spaces for $5 each and throws in a candle and a discount coupon.
"It's good marketing. When people drive in they're all angry to begin with. They at least leave happy, with a candle and a 10 percent discount," Ms. Albright said.
She said she'd have to spend as much as $40,000 to bring the Lafayette lot up to the standards.
Phil Roth, owner of Roth Furs, 232 North Erie St., said the city shouldn't be trying to extract fees from small businesses trying to make a few extra dollars. "They can't be making that much money. Five hundred dollars for a license -- who's going to justify that?" Mr. Roth said.
Although he is on the city's list to get a warning letter for the 12-space lot next to his building, he said it doesn't apply to him because he doesn't sell any of the spaces.
"I let my friends park there for nothing," Mr. Roth said. He said he tried stringing a chain across his lot a few years ago to keep out parkers when his business is closed but the chain was broken.
Clayton Johnston, president of the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority, which operates two parking garages in the vicinity of Huntington Center and the SeaGate Centre, said licensing is done in all big cities and is aimed at creating a uniform experience. Parking in the Port Lawrence and Superior Street garages costs $7 per event, and he said he doesn't think the licensing enforcement will cause prices to rise.
He said licensing sets certain requirements such as adequate lighting, security, setback, and spaces for the handicapped create a quality downtown parking program.
He said entrepreneurs -- especially in the Warehouse District -- are parking cars on grassy lots or have torn down buildings to make room for parking.
"If they have an ordinance on the books they should enforce it or drop it. There's plenty of parking downtown. There's 18,000 parking spaces, and there's people out there carving out more parking spaces," Mr. Johnston said.
Since the crackdown began, nine property owners have stepped up with their $500 initial license fee. One of those is the city of Toledo itself, which owns a lot at the Erie Street Market.
Newly licensed lots are at 608 Washington St., 114 South Superior St., 413 South Washington, 613 Monroe St., 424 Front St., 129 South Huron St., and 8 North Ontario St.
Forty-two lots were licensed in 2010 and have renewed their license with fees of $150 or $275.
Most of those -- 34 -- belong to Kwik Parking.
Contract Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.