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Photo by Max Marbut - Chris Hand, Mayor Alvin Brown's chief of staff (right, at podium), appeared Tuesday before the Downtown Investment Authority.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Nov. 28, 201212:00 PM EST

Downtown Investment Authority supports change in parking policy

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The Downtown Investment Authority approved a recommendation Tuesday that City Council approve proposed legislation to amend the parking policies at City-owned garages, surface parking lots and metered parking spaces.

The board stipulated the legislation should be amended to ensure the authority retains power over decisions regarding changes in parking objectives and policies.

It was recommended that until the authority has in place an executive director, responsibility for parking-related decisions be under the purview of the City Office of Economic Development, but any changes would need the authority's approval.

After an authority executive director is hired, the authority would be the sole decision-maker.

City Parking Officer Jack Shad said the proposed legislation has been a priority since he was appointed to the post a year ago.

He said Council set parking rates and policies for City facilities six years ago and the regulations are hindering the City's ability to properly market the service to consumers.

Shad cited the $1 per hour plus sales tax rate as an example.

He said a customer who pays for an hour of parking receives 93 cents in change if they pay with two $1 bills.

"I have a safe in my office with $1,000 in nickels. If we want to run a modern parking operation, we need to charge $1 (an hour), not $1.07," Shad said.

He said the City's inability under the current ordinance prevents it from offering long-term parking contracts and prorating monthly charges.

He said he doesn't think most customers care whether they park in a City facility or a private facility, but having "cumbersome" rules is making the City-owned options less attractive to customers.

"The purpose of the ordinance is to let us run a modern, customer-focused operation." said Shad.

Members of the board agreed.

"I think it's a fine basic document. Parking should be more user-friendly and looked at not as a profit center, but as an amenity to make Downtown more competitive with other areas of the city," said authority member Don Shea.

When Shad said he sees parking as a Downtown "economic development tool," Shea started discussion concerning whether the authority or the economic development office is responsible for devising and implementing a plan to develop Downtown.

"It has always been our intent to work closely with the DIA board and staff," said Shad.

Authority Vice Chairman Oliver Barakat said the Office of Public Parking manages the facilities, but the economic development office is the "deal maker" in terms of offering incentives to encourage businesses to lease office space Downtown.

"There are too many cooks in the kitchen and they don't always play in the same sandbox," said Barakat.

Chris Hand, Mayor Alvin Brown's chief of staff, spoke to the board and said the administration is eager to see the legislation move forward. He also said Brown is willing to "tweak" the organizational plan to ensure the authority maintains power over Downtown parking issues.

"The mayor's office wants to discuss this and do so quickly," and the legislation won't be discussed by the full Council for two weeks, Hand said.

"That gives us time to reach resolution," he said.

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