File photo by D.L. Anderson
A few weeks back, and without much of a fuss, the Raleigh City Council approved a $5 fee to park in city-owned downtown garages, which are currently free. The fee, the city explained, was intended to pay for maintenance and cleanup in the garages, as the city has seen an increase in things like beer bottles (litterbugs
) and human waste (Jesus, people, really?
), all of which needs to be cleaned up, and that costs money.
The new fees, due to take effect at the end of the year, would raise about $1 million a year.
But downtown business owners also fear that they’ll raise their employees’ costs—those who can’t afford to live within walking distance have to park every time they work, after all—and, perhaps more important, the new fees will scare off customers. Led by Sean Degnan, owner of bu•ku
, they’ve organized a Facebook group
to rally the downtown troops against the new parking fees.
And tomorrow night, a group of five downtown business owners—David Meeker and his partners at Busy Bee
, Ashley Christensen of, well, Ashley Christensen Inc
., Degnan, Angela Salamanca of Centro
, and Van Nolintha of Bida Manda
—will press their case to the City Council.
David Meeker—the son of former mayor Charles Meeker and (disclosure) the nephew of INDY
co-owner Richard Meeker—says their goal isn’t for Council to phase out the fees altogether. Maintenance is a problem, and it can be expensive. Besides, Meeker says, because of construction the city’s parking budget hasn’t been balanced in a couple of years. But what they want is for the fees to be phased in, starting at the times where the most trouble occurs—Friday and Saturday nights—and only filtering to the rest of the week if need be.
As Meeker points out, if you go downtown and have a $20 meal, the $5 parking fee would be, in effect, a 25 percent surcharge. And the still-free street-parking spots would fill up quicker than they do now. Currently restaurants advise their employees to park in garages. With the fees, they’ll naturally look for street parking first. (Meeker says the city has been receptive to a monthly parking rate that would save the employees some money.)
As strong as downtown has become in recent years
, any loss of customers during slower periods—meaning, in essence, weekend days and weekday nights—could adversely impact downtown restaurants and bars. If those fees scare off even 15 to 20 percent of customers, that would be a devastating blow.
“Ten years ago, there was nobody downtown,” Meeker says. “It had to be free. No, Council thinks that downtown has made it, so we can change. I just don’t think we’re there yet.”
They think the city should, instead of the blanket fee increase, both target those fees to the trouble periods—9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights—and increase security inside the garages. With fewer incidents and a little bit more money, Meeker says, “maybe you can connect the budget dots. Maybe that’s all we have to do.”
And maybe they can do it without affecting the hospitality industry or even downtown’s cultural attractions, such as the Marbles Kids Museum
“We’re obviously behind the 8-ball,” Meeker says. “It’s already been passed.” But still, he adds, in private conversations council members have been receptive to the idea of a phase-in. “Our hope,” Meeker says, “is that they say, ‘Good point, we should do some research on this.’”
We’ll update this story as we learn more.