The Downtown Toledo Parking Authority, which enforces parking regulations on behalf of the city, commissioned a study that suggested eliminating the practice. One major reason was given for the proposed change: the free periods are being used by employees at downtown businesses, instead of lunchtime patrons of those businesses, the group the policy was intended to benefit.
However, the change in policy also would have generated more money in parking fees, because a proposed ordinance would require paid parking at downtown meters between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. The current charge is $1 per hour. Holidays are exempted from paid parking. Drivers currently pay from 8 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m.
Toledo City Councilman Rob Ludeman, who chaired the public hearing, noted that he had received 45 emails regarding the controversial parking meter change. Councilman Steve Steel added he also had received an avalanche of emails. Steel also reached out to downtown business owners and residents in person and by Facebook for an informal survey.
“This has received a 100 percent disapproval rating,” he said to loud audience applause. “I have heard nothing neutral. I’ve heard things like ‘horrible,’ ‘business-killer,’ ‘killing downtown at a time when it’s just turning a corner.’”
The owner of a downtown coffee shop sent Steel an email stating that his employees are banned from parking at meters on the street and suggested instead the issue “be resolved with the offenders.” Another downtown restaurant owner suggested city officials instead work with individual businesses to resolve the issue with their employees.
The possible change in parking policy was suggested alongside legislative proposals to terminate the city’s ongoing agreement with the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority and the sale of city-owned parking garages to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which also would enter into a “franchise agreement” with the city to take over the operation of on-street parking meters.
The metered parking change and the ability to write tickets for parking infractions would have provided additional revenue, allowing the port authority to more quickly pay off a state loan for the purchase of three municipal parking garages. According to proposed legislation, the port authority is seeking such a loan “not to exceed $10 million.” The port authority already operates similar metered parking and vehicle lots at Toledo Express Airport.
Toledo City Law Director Adam Loukx noted the city would be the first in Ohio to issue such a franchise agreement under recently-passed state legislation which makes such arrangements possible. The port authority is then expected to contract with the downtown parking authority.
Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers told city council members that Toledo would realize a net gain of $2.3 million for its capital improvement budget from the sale of the parking garages. That money, in turn, would be used for street repaving and other projects. Future parking revenues also would be shared with the city “that would be significant,” the deputy mayor added.
“Whether or not the free parking is something that is critical to the deal and whether it will impact the price is subject to future negotiations,” Crothers said. “The more revenue received by the port authority from the parking system, the city of Toledo will benefit.”
“I think it’s going to lead a death blow to downtown Toledo,” said Marvin Jacobs, an attorney who has kept his offices downtown for more than 40 years. He cited a number of downtown businesses that have failed and others who have moved to the suburbs.
“We need to encourage the people vested in downtown to keep investing in downtown,” echoed George Gusses, another downtown attorney and a property owner. “I don’t see that happening by changing the status quo.”
Clayton Johnston, president of the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority, stated Toledo is the only major city in Ohio to offer free parking during mid-day hours. He told city council that “abuses of the free mid-day parking” prevents people from parking near the front doors of small business, which would help them grow.
Johnston stated the parking authority generates about $450,000 annually from downtown’s approximately 1,000 parking meters. The authority also collects $600,000 each year from parking violations.
Councilman Mike Collins suggested that the parking authority attempt to “establish a relationship” with private parking lot owners to encourage part-time downtown workers to use parking lots instead. Collins said such a relationship could free up the on-street parking meters.
“That’s the issue we really want to clear up is being better able to better manage the on-street program so that it best serves all the clients downtown in an even-handed fashion,” said Bill Thomas, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District.
City council’s economic development committee will recommend to the full council to refer the proposal to committee, a procedural move that could either delay or kill the measure.