A few weeks back, without much fuss, the Raleigh City Council approved a $5 fee to park in currently free city-owned downtown garages. The fee was intended to pay for maintenance and cleanup, as city garages have seen an increase in things like discarded beer bottles and other detritus (we're judging you, litterbugs) and human waste (Jesus, people, really?).
The city ain't your momma, folks, and tidying up after your drunk asses costs money. The new fee, due to take effect at year's end, would raise an estimated $1 million a year toward that cause.
But downtown business owners also fear the fee will increase their employees' costs. Those in the hospitality biz who can't afford to live near downtown—and really, who can?—have to drive to work, which means they have to park, which means, if they work five days a week, they'll each be losing somewhere in the ballpark of $1,250 a year.
More important, though, they worry that the new fee will scare off customers. And so on Tuesday night (which falls in the editorial dead zone between when we print and when you read), a group of them—Sean Degnan of bu•ku, David Meeker and his partners at Busy Bee Café; Ashley Christensen of, well, Ashley Christensen Inc.; Angela Salamanca of Centro; and Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha of Bida Manda—were set to press their case to City Council.
Meeker—scion of former mayor Charles Meeker and (disclosure) nephew of INDY co-owner Richard Meeker—told the INDY Monday that their goal isn't to eliminate the fee. Instead, they want it to be phased in, starting at the times when trouble most occurs, busy Friday and Saturday nights. After all, that's when the city stands to collect the most money.
Combine that with additional security to keep dipshits from using the garages as their personal toilet and "maybe you can connect the budget dots," Meeker says. "Maybe that's all we have to do."
The city will still have free night-and-weekend downtown street parking—if you can find it, that is, which you won't. Currently business owners direct their employees to park in garages. With the fee in place, they'll hog the street parking instead. Customers will have to pay, and at least some of them will take their business elsewhere. If the fee dissuades even 15 percent of customers from coming downtown, the business owners say, that would deal a devastating blow.
"Ten years ago, there was nobody downtown," Meeker says. "It had to be free. Now, Council thinks that downtown has made it, so we can change. I just don't think we're there yet."
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