Parking in Downtown Jamestown has been a topic of discussion and complaints for as long as this writer can remember. The most recent proposal has been put forth by Mayor Sundquist to bring the City’s parking plan into the 21st century.
Initially, the Mayor presented the proposed plan at the October City Council meeting to upgrade the current meters to “smart” meters, update the cost of using the meters to $1 per hour, and remove the free parking spaces. The proposal would also bring more funds into the City’s coffers. The proposed smart meters use an online application on the user’s phone to take the payment and will be replacing about one-third of the meters. Immediately the Mayor’s office began receiving reactions to the plan. The City Council was also holding off on any decision without more feedback from the community. Last month the Mayor returned to the City Council meeting to present a compromise. “This is an opportunity for a good compromise to meet the downtown businesses and their patrons needs. We need to make visiting Jamestown easy for our tourists. At the last Council meeting I suggested an alternative. Each meter is free for the first 20 minutes, which could be 30 minutes if that works for everyone. The free time allows patrons to park close to the stores or services they need to visit and run their errands without a parking fee. It would work for food pick-up, banking, and paying bills at City Hall. If one needs to stay downtown for an extended amount of time the ramps are always open. The meter fee would change from fifty cents per hour to one dollar per hour. The ramp is only seventy-five cents per hour with a five-dollar limit per day. Compared to other cities, Jamestown is way overdue for an increase. The average cost of parking in a similar sized city in New York State is $2 to $3 dollars per hour.”
Mayor Sundquist added, “when I took office, one of my goals was to modernize City Hall and that includes parking. The new smart meters are expensive. The City was awarded a grant from NYS and the Federal government to purchase the meters. They will replace a third of the current meters. The grant drove the timing of this change. The meters will be installed next spring which is why it is under discussion now. We have researched what other cities across New York are doing. We also took a research trip to Buffalo to speak with the parking management team.”
Council President Tony Dolce said, “the council needs to prepare for an increased need in parking when the pandemic is over. In addition to street parking the parking ramps which are in decent shape need to be updated for security purposes. Cameras and safety lighting will be installed and the elevator in the Spring Street ramp needs to be repaired. These are state mandated changes.” Both the Mayor and Dolce are encouraging more use of the City’s two parking ramps.
Change is hard
The City along with most of the population has suffered during the pandemic. The parking changes are part of the modernization plan and will add to the city’s revenue in a way that does not increase taxes. Mark Eckendorf, Executive Director of the Jamestown YMCA, said, “many of our members are upset about this proposal. They see it as an extension of their membership fee. Senior citizens use the facility most week-day mornings and they will have to add the two to three-hour parking fee per day to their monthly budget. It could be a tipping point for some. I know the City is stretched and I certainly understand the City’s financial problems. This is very troubling given the tight market here in Jamestown.”
Eckendorf is not alone, Kandy Lombardo, co-owner of Dorian’s Plus salon, said, “this certainly didn’t make me happy. Our customers, many of them elderly, already have a hard time coming to the salon given the pandemic and now it costs more. It’s another burden on them. People want to support local businesses, but this makes it just that much harder. Businesses are just reopening. They are struggling. I think the City should promote coming downtown more, there are many things customers can do downtown. They like to run errands and having to pay for every minute is discouraging.”
Michelle McCray, co-owner of the Dots Gift Boutiques, said, “… since we currently have no meters at all on Third St, I think the new fees will be a deterrent for all the downtown businesses. However, I do think a 20-minute free grace time is a good compromise. We’ve been informally polling our customers and of course, no meters or fees is preferred but most agree the 20-minute grace period is good. 30 minutes would be better.” Ms. McCray went on to question the projected income presented by the Mayor.
In response to the complaints and questions, Mayor Sundquist said, “I understand the difficulty for business owners at this time. The proposed 20-minute free parking will decrease tickets because it really is almost 30 minutes of free parking because it takes the meter readers a minimum of 20 minutes to do the circuit. We are considering more spaces for loading and unloading to give business owners a space to manage their needs.”
And the discussion continues.
“The Council is looking for ideas and suggestions to arrive at a compromise that meets the City and our community’s needs,” said Councilman Dolce. The Mayor’s office can be reached at 716-483-7600 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Make your thoughts known. You might have the idea that helps put this long running problem to rest.