After several months of debate, the City of Ithaca’s Board of Public Works eliminated the first hour of free parking in garages on Cayuga, Green and Seneca streets and raised the rate of parking meters on Edgemoor Lane, Stewart Avenue and Thurston Avenue from 25 to 50 cents per hour. The changes went into effect Jan. 1.
Tim Logue, city transportation engineer for the Department of Public Works, said the city spends about $3 million annually on operating and financing the three garages downtown and one on Dryden Street in Collegetown, but the old parking system only generated $1 million in revenue. Logue said the $2 million gap is normally paid through the general fund, a combination of property taxes, sales taxes and other funds paid by Ithaca taxpayers.
Logue said the city asked the Board of Public Works to find a way to subtract about 10 percent, or $200,000, from the $2 million gap that taxpayers pay by making changes to the parking system.
The Board of Public Works passed the removal of free one-hour parking during a meeting in December. Logue said changes to the garage rates are projected to raise $175,000, while the 25-cent increase will raise $25,000.
Gary Ferguson, executive director of the
Downtown Ithaca Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development and preservation of downtown Ithaca, said the group was concerned when the elimination of free one-hour parking was brought up for debate to the Common Council and the Board of Public Works in 2009 because it might deter people from visiting The Commons.
“One-hour free parking is helpful in generating interest in people using downtown as a place to shop, dine and entertain themselves,” Ferguson said. “We were very anxious to see that that continued on or some arrangement that provided some incentive for people to come downtown.”
Ferguson said businesses have been apprehensive about the decision.
Joseph Wetmore, owner of Autumn Leaves Used Books on The Commons, said the parking changes will prevent customers from shopping downtown, but he also said it is difficult to say whether they have impacted his business yet.
“It’s unfortunate,” Wetmore said. “The one-hour program has definitely encouraged people to come downtown and do short shopping trips.”
Ferguson said members of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance thought there were alternatives to removing free one-hour parking, like making only the first half hour free or charging 25 cents for 15-minute increments instead.
“Folks opted for what proved to be the simplest way and the easiest,” he said.
Logue said every year is a difficult budget year for the city, which did not have many other options to remedy the parking garage revenue gap.
“There was certainly a concern expressed that in a sour economy, that every little dollar or any reason to turn someone away would hurt the business district and hurt the local economy,” Logue said. “At the same time, there’s also recognition that the city is in a tough spot financially.”
Lyle Davis, manager of Morgan’s, a women’s clothing boutique on Cayuga Street, said visitors have been spending less time inside stores on The Commons, changing the way they shop.
“People will run in for 15 seconds because they have to stick money in the meter,” Davis said.
Davis said the new parking regulations will urge shoppers to visit the mall — where parking is free — rather than visit The Commons.
“The new regulations are detrimental to the success of The Commons,” Davis said.
Despite the elimination, Ferguson said parking rates remain relatively inexpensive, and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance continues to hope visitors will come downtown.
“We definitely need to communicate the message to the community, including the student population as well, that we still have free parking on evenings and weekends,” he said. “When you do have to pay for parking, it’s still pretty reasonable.”