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Published: Friday, 7/22/2011

Meters to stay free downtown during lunch

Councilman cites 100% disapproval in survey

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Councilman Steven Steel said he did an informal survey and every person was against ending the free-parking period during lunch. The Downtown Toledo Parking Authority wanted to end the decades-long practice. Councilman Steven Steel said he did an informal survey and every person was against ending the free-parking period during lunch. The Downtown Toledo Parking Authority wanted to end the decades-long practice.
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With apparent overwhelming opposition to ending the decades-old free lunchtime metered street parking downtown, a Toledo City Council committee Thursday recommended that the proposal be shelved.

In stark contrast to the picture painted by the city's top parking authority official -- who had said Tuesday that downtown business owners were in favor of the idea to end the free three-hour meter time -- some councilmen and several business owners Thursday completely blasted the idea.

Councilman Steven Steel said he conducted an informal survey of downtown businesses since the idea surfaced at council's agenda review meeting Tuesday. "This is a rare thing … This has received a 100 percent disapproval rating," Mr. Steel said. "It is without exception, I have heard 'horrible,' and 'Why are you doing this?' "

The Downtown Toledo Parking Authority, which collects money from the meters and writes violations, commissioned a study that concluded that "free" periods should be eliminated. Bell administration officials this week stressed the change was not meant to generate more money for the parking authority. Instead, it is supposed to free up spots for customers for downtown restaurants and other businesses since employees of those businesses were taking up too many spots, said Clayton Johnston, president of the parking authority.

Mr. Johnston said downtown employees were "abusing" the free metered parking from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and said charging during those hours would push them to park their vehicles in parking lots and garages.

Mr. Johnston did not reveal which downtown business owners told him they were in favor of ending the free metered parking time.

Councilman D. Michael Collins asked Mr. Johnston whether he spoke with the owners of private parking lots to possibly offer discounts to downtown employees, to which Mr. Johnston said he already had some of those discussions.

Mr. Collins then suggested the parking authority just keep working with the parking lot owners instead.

"Since this isn't about money, the rest of this doesn't make sense," Mr. Collins said.

Motorists can park downtown for free from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Motorists can park downtown for free from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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The parking authority itself could in fact consider offering discounts to downtown employees in any of the city-owned garages that it operates for the city under contract, acknowledged councilman Joe McNamara.

Councilman Tom Waniewski Thursday also said the idea to charge during lunch time seemed more about generating money than the motive initially stated by Mr. Johnston.

George Gusses, an attorney whose office is in downtown Toledo, was among several people who spoke out against the idea Thursday.

"We need to encourage those who are vested in downtown to keep investing in downtown," Mr. Gusses said.

Many of those opposed to the idea said it would discourage people from driving downtown to patronize restaurants for lunch.

The proposal, which now sits in committee, calls for paid parking at meters between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday except on holidays. Drivers currently have to pay from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m and again from 2 to 5 p.m., so the change would increase the number of hours when meters would collect money, as well as the amount of time during which tickets can be written.

The parking authority operates and patrols downtown parking meters and by contract pays the city $725,000 annually.

Mr. Johnston said the parking authority collects roughly $450,000 a year from the meters and $600,000 a year from parking tickets.

The agency collected $39,543 in April and $39,503 in May from the roughly 1,000 on-street parking meters, according to minutes from its June 17 board meeting. Violations revenue totaled $55,961 for April and $55,686 in May.

It also gets money from the parking garages. Facilities revenue totaled $201,216 in April and $215,615 in May, also according to the minutes.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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