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The past two Friday nights have been hockey nights at Toledo's Huntington Center, and well before game time, curbside parking on nearby blocks had been mostly, if not entirely, snapped up by Walleye fans seeking to avoid parking charges as high as $20 at nearby lots and garages.
That meant a walk of several blocks from the closest available parking spot for anyone who might want to go to Our Brothers Place on game night.
"During events, I can't get anyone in with the parking all tied up," said Mike Johnson, a co-owner of the bar and restaurant on North Huron Street across from the arena.
The tendency of downtown parking spots, where metered parking becomes free after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends, to fill up long ahead of events at Huntington Center or nearby Fifth Third Field has Paul Toth, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, wondering if it might be worthwhile to charge for the metered spots during games and shows.
"Why should we provide free parking when the lots are collecting $20?" said Mr. Toth, whose agency took over ownership of three municipal parking garages and management of on-street meters from the city on Jan. 1. "We don't want to hurt the restaurants and other businesses on nights when there is no event, but now, the meters are the first spots to fill up."
But he and Bill Thomas, chief operating officer of the Downtown Toledo Development Corp., also said the idea is very preliminary, with no timetable even for studying it.
"We need to look at what other communities are doing, look at some best practices," Mr. Toth said.
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Event rates for on-street parking already are used in several cities, notably Columbus, said Mr. Thomas, whose agency is the port authority's management partner for the downtown parking operation and in turn has contracted with the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority for meter servicing and enforcement.
There's an "imbalance" between the free parking that some event-goers snag and the rates at nearby surface lots and garages, he said.
At the three municipal garages -- Port Lawrence, which is directly attached to the arena, Superior, and Vistula -- the maximum event rate is $7.
Parking charges at surface lots near the ballpark and arena typically range between $5 and $20. Some of the cheaper lots are unlicensed by the city, a sore spot with competitors who say they also violate city standards for public lots.
Any change in downtown parking rates is subject to Toledo City Council approval. Council President Joe McNamara said he would "want to hear what the justification and reasoning are" for an event-parking rate, and would insist on thorough discussion -- including public hearings -- before putting the idea to a vote.
Mr. McNamara said his first reaction to a new parking charge is skepticism, because it could discourage people from patronizing downtown businesses before they go to games or shows, but he would still be willing to hear the case for it.
Joe Napoli, general manager of the Toledo Mud Hens and Toledo Walleye, agreed that any change in downtown parking management should be studied carefully.
"Any changes we make related to our fans' behavior, we spend a fair amount of money on research first" and the city should do the same, he said, adding later, "We do know there are some fans who come down early because they are seeking the free parking."
Christine Bailey, communications manager for the Greater Toledo Chamber of Commerce, also took a wait-and-see approach: "We'd have to see what it shook out to be before we took a position."
Mr. Johnson, of Our Brothers Place, said he wouldn't support an off-hours charge for on-street parking, though it might make it easier for patrons to get to his establishment during events. He suggested the city instead tear down nearby empty buildings and redevelop the vacated space for more parking.
The pregame rush for free parking is "a two-headed sword" because it boosts business before arena events, even though it may suffer while events are under way, Mr. Johnson said.
And charging for parking at night, he said, would annoy customers because "no one's really conditioned to pay the meters at night, so there'll be a lot of tickets."
Last summer, before the port authority paid the city $12.4 million to buy the garages and take over meter management, city council rejected a proposal to end midday free parking at metered spots.
Toledo's downtown meters are enforced from 8 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m., with a $1-an-hour rate.
Intended to encourage people to visit downtown restaurants for lunch, the midday freebie enables downtown workers' cars to occupy metered spots for extended times.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.