A recent hike in parking meter rates has some of Colorado Springs' downtown employees perplexed about the change that they say hit with little warning.
On July 1, parking meter prices shot up 100 percent in the downtown "core," the blocks bordered by Boulder and Vermijo streets to the north and south and Nevada and Cascade avenues to the east and west. Parking now goes for a dollar per hour, payable only in quarters as announced by the bright yellow stickers on each meter.
"It was like "boom,'" says Ann Luckett, manager of Terra Verde at 208 N. Tejon St. "The next thing I know, we have people in here asking for quarters."
Patrons used to be able to use dimes and nickels to feed meters that required 50 cents per hour.
In an April letter to business owners, the Downtown Partnership expressed its support of the rate increase, which the city's parking administration had begun negotiating in the spring. In its June newsletter, the nonprofit downtown advocate announced the increase would be taking effect the following month. But some business employees say those efforts weren't enough.
"I don't feel we were any part of the decision-making," says Luckett. "[Customers] are just getting the word."
The rate increase was conceived largely to help pay off a debt on the parking revenue bond that funded construction of the 300-space garage at the corner of Bijou and Cascade. It also will fund installation of new high-tech meters, and other downtown capital improvements.
The hike was originally planned for January 2007, but the Downtown Partnership pushed for earlier implementation when it learned that the COSMIX Interstate 25 project would close the Bijou Street Bridge from January through October 2007 which could deter potential shoppers from traveling downtown.
To avoid hitting consumers with two impediments at once, the partnership joined with the parking administration to urge City Council to hike the meter rates earlier. In late May, City Council voted 5 to 4 for the increase, which upped all city meter rates. Parking outside of the downtown "core" now goes for 75 cents an hour, payable with quarters, dimes and nickels. Off-street parking is also more expensive, with patrons paying $6.75 per day, up from $4.50.
City parking administrator Greg Warnke says the quarters-only meters in the downtown core represent a step toward high-tech, card-reading meters that patrons should expect to see in January. Downtown shoppers will be able to purchase "log cards" for $4, then add money to them using credit cards at two nearby kiosks. They can swipe their log cards through the meters to pay for parking.
"We hope [the businesses] find a benefit to the new log cards," says Warnke, who acknowledges that the quarters-only meters are a "slight inconvenience" to shoppers downtown.
"We are doing what we can. I think downtown is an attractive place to be and work, and I think the parking isn't going to be a detriment to that," he says.
Still, some downtown employees are concerned that the higher-priced parking will scare customers away. Leslie Thompson, a saleswoman at Mountain Chalet at 226 N. Tejon St., says she has seen customers in the middle of a sale leave to refill meters and opt not come back. She worries that her customers will switch to big-box stores like REI, where parking is free and plentiful.
"It's the least friendly thing," she says. "They have made shopping downtown a hostile environment."