$100K to study parking

The days of abundant free parking in downtown Everett may be coming to a close.

The city plans to spend as much as $100,000 to see if parking meters make sense for downtown’s 1,800 on-street parking spaces.

Three companies have lined up for a shot at the contract, which is expected to be awarded this summer.

It is too early to know if the city will install meters, officials say.

“It’s not like we’ve already decided we’re going to do pay-to-park,” said City Engineer Ryan Sass. “We really need to take our time and study it thoroughly.”

The study will look at whether meters will drive customers away, how much meters will cost, and what comparable cities are doing about downtown parking.

Everett once had parking meters, but they were taken out decades ago because merchants were concerned about losing business to new malls with seas of free parking, Sass said.

Installing meters in downtown Everett, where people are accustomed to free parking, could meet resistance from residents and business owners.

“If there’s an upside to it, I’m just not seeing it,” said Ryan Sturm, chef and owner of Alligator Soul, 2013 Hewitt Ave.

Sturm’s Cajun restaurant is across the street from the Everett Events Center, which draws thousands of cars to downtown streets for games and concerts.

The talk of meters comes at a time when Everett is bracing for explosive growth in its downtown.

A number of condo projects are expected in the coming years, swelling the downtown area’s population.

About 3,000 people currently live downtown. The city predicts at least 1,000 people will move there in the next three to five years.

The idea for meters was a key recommendation of the Everett Downtown Plan, which was unanimously approved by the City Council last summer.

The plan calls for funneling money collected at new parking meters into improvements that benefit downtown.

Landscaping, trees, decorative streetlights and increased police protection are just a few amenities that could be paid for with the added money.

“That’s crucial to people accepting it,” said City Councilman Drew Nielsen.

Everett Police Department has four parking enforcement officers, although one position is vacant.

Parking citations last year generated more than $200,000 for the city’s general fund, which pays for government services, such as police and fire protection and city parks.

Money collected from downtown parking meters might be used in a different way.

A case study of the Old Pasadena district near downtown Los Angeles showed that returning meter revenue to the neighborhood helped transform the area from a skid row to a shopping destination in the early 1990s.

The Old Pasadena district now gets to keep about $1 million in meter revenue every year. That’s more than $1,700 from each meter.

Camille Evans, manager of Everyday Epiphanies Gift Shop, 2934 Colby Ave., said parking meters shouldn’t give people less than a few hours to linger downtown.

“You can’t eat a meal and shop at these shops for an hour,” she said. “If they’re going to do meters, give them time to be there.”

During most weekdays, about 70 percent of downtown’s on-street parking is filled, according to the city.

Not all of the parked cars are from patrons.

While time restrictions are in place to prevent anyone from monopolizing free parking, many office workers risk parking tickets or simply move their cars frequently to avoid paying to park at garages and lots.

The city-owned Everpark Garage on Hoyt Ave., for example, charges between $55 and $75 a month per space.

Charging for on-street parking would likely drive some downtown workers to begin using some of the district’s 5,700 parking spaces at public and private lots and garages.

Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said meters could change that behavior and free up spaces for customers.

Metered downtown parking could also encourage people to walk to work or to take public transportation, she said.

As demand for downtown parking spaces increase, and available spaces become scarcer, Reardon said people’s thoughts about parking will have to shift.

“It’s second nature for people to feel like they should be able to park one or two stalls from the business that they want to visit,” she said.

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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