Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
Now that the city has more control of the downtown parking situation, City Council members are set to consider a proposal to upgrade the decades-old parking meters that serve the area around the square.
The area includes on-street parking spaces, and several parking lots that are used by both downtown visitors and employees.
Up until last year, three of the most-used parking lots were owned by the Off-Street Parking Development District, an independent group of property owners that was formed in 1976 to obtain land and build parking lots to serve the downtown area at a time when business was struggling due to a lack of parking.
The group used bonds to build infrastructure and made payments on the debt with money it received from parking fees and by charging area property owners a temporary tax. The city purchased one of the group’s lots in the late 1990s to construct the Town Center building, and the group was able to pay off its debt. From then on, the group used its revenues for maintenance and improvements. Once all planned renovations were complete, the group dissolved and transferred its three remaining parking lots to the city. It also agreed to give its remaining revenues to the city on one condition.
“The funds that the city received came with some pretty specific strings attached,” said Justin Clay, the city’s parking manager. “They can only be used for parking-related items within the boundaries of that district.”
Clay said the plan is to use about $300,000 of the money to update the parking equipment in the area.
The proposal calls for replacing about 250 coin-operated on-street parking meters with “smart” meters that accept credit cards, contactless payment, and payment through a mobile app. The new meters would still accept coins.
The new on-street meters would include sensor technology which allows users to see where empty spots are located using the app. The sensors would also let the city know when someone pulled into a space so that a grace period of 15-30 minutes could be given to people who only plan for a short visit.
“That would let a person pick up a cup of coffee or grab a to-go order without having to pay the parking rate,” said Clay.
As for off-street parking, about 275 meters in the city’s parking lots would be removed and replaced with seven pay stations to allow for payment and permitting by license plate.
Staff said using the pay-by-plate method would allow for the same grace period options as the on-street sensors. Additionally, pay-by-plate parking would allow a user to prepay for their parking, and to move from one space to another as long as they have an active parking session.
In order to cover an expected $60,000 annual operational cost increase, rates for on-street parking would increase from 25 cents per hour to 50 cents per hour, and the two-hour time limit for parking would be removed. Rates in the parking lots would increase from 15 cents per hour to 25 cents per hour.
Another part of the proposal is to establish a residential permit program to allow people who live near the square to park in the lots for $25 per year if they choose, and to give a 90% discount to people who work near the square – similar to what’s offered to residents and employees around Dickson Street.
Clay said the free parking spaces directly around the square would not be affected by the plan, and parking in the other areas would remain free at night and on the weekends.
The Transportation Committee earlier this year voted unanimously to recommend approval of the plan. The City Council is set to formally discuss the idea at its next regular meeting on Sept. 7.