Candidate calls for re-evaluation of paid parking program

Mayoral candidate Dan Coody points to an area on West Avenue that he believes could be reconfigured to allow for on-street parking Thursday afternoon. Coody has been driving local reporters and editors through the area this week to point out suggested changes to the current paid parking program.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Dan Coody took another shot at the city’s paid parking program and planned downtown parking deck Thursday during a news conference and media tour of the Dickson Street area.

It’s the second attempt to gain public support over the issue by the former Fayetteville mayor who recently announced plans to challenge Mayor Lioneld Jordan in the Nov. 6 general election. Coody organized a meeting at the Fayetteville Public Library last month where a reported 50 people showed up to discuss the downtown parking situation.

“People understand that you have to pay to park. That’s not a big deal. We’ve been doing it all our lives,” said Coody on Thursday. “It’s the system that we have in place that’s overly confusing, it’s overly aggressive and it causes more problems than it solves.”

The two-year-old paid parking program was unanimously approved by the City Council in June 2010 in an effort to generate revenue to build a downtown parking deck.

The city plans to finance the deck with up to $6.5 million in bonds which will be repaid using money from paid parking fees and fines over the next 25 years.

The “Theater Lot” at the corner of Spring Street and School Avenue is one of two possible remaining locations for a planned downtown parking deck.

Photo: Todd Gill

Coody said he believes paid parking has given Fayetteville’s brand a “black eye” and that if plans for the parking deck take one more step forward, there will be no turning back.

“The thing that scares me the most is the fact that the City Council has given the mayor the authority to sell the bonds,” said Coody. “If they sell those bonds, then we will be locked in to writing tickets and charging fees for the next 25 years.”

Jordan was in Hot Springs Thursday for the Arkansas Municipal League’s annual conference, but has said no bonds would be issued until the City Council first approves a location for the parking deck. City staff are currently studying at least two deck sites and are expected to soon make a formal location recommendation to the council.

Coody took aim at the city’s persistent push toward building a parking deck – especially now that Walton Arts center officials have announced that planned 2,200-seat and 600-seat theaters will be built in Bentonville and on the University of Arkansas campus instead of the Dickson Street area.

“They’re using studies that said we’d need a parking garage when those things were complete, but none of that is going to happen,” he said.

Jordan’s staff have defended that platform and maintain that there’s still a need for parking.

Jurgens explains the pros and cons of building a deck at the WAC Lot during a public location tour earlier this year.

Photo: Todd Gill

David Jurgens, project manager for the planned parking deck, recently said that in 2011, there were 208 days times in which city-owned lots around Dickson Street were completely full.

Still, Coody says putting the process on hold and reopening the issue to public input will allow for what he believes is a much-needed reevaluation of the program as a whole.

Citing data provided by the city’s parking department, Coody said he believed the over 22,000 tickets that have been issued in the entertainment district since 2010 are an indication that the need for a change is at least debatable.

He suggested several tweaks to the parking program including construction of more on-street parking which could help reduce the size of – or the need for – a downtown parking deck. Other ideas were to add meters at each on-street parking space in addition to the street corner kiosks to create a more convenient payment option, and improving sidewalks to encourage residents to walk to the Dickson Street area.

“Is that the best way to do it? I don’t know, but that’s when you call in professionals and have a big public meeting,” he said.

Jordan and his staff have on many occasions defended the steps taken to develop the paid parking program into what it is today. They have oftentimes pointed to a series of 16 public meetings and City Council sessions in which residents were given the opportunity to weigh in on the program and suggest changes, some of which were implemented by the council after six months of studying the new system.

Coody said while he understands the city’s administration is under no obligation to reopen the paid parking debate, he’s hoping for “a change of heart” by either Mayor Jordan or any of the eight council members who voted to adopt the program and the issuance of bonds.

“We just keep moving ahead,” he said. “And soon it will be too late.”

Coody and Jordan are so far the only announced candidates for the office. Jordan announced his re-election bid in March. Coody, who lost the 2008 runoff election to Jordan after eight years as mayor, launched his campaign in May.

The filing period for mayor and other municipal offices begins July 27.