by Max Marbut
Last week, a group of Downtown business and restaurant owners celebrated a change in regulations regarding metered parking – but support of the new ordinance is far from unanimous.
Of particular concern to another group of retailers is “meter-feeding,” which can turn a one-hour maximum time limit into a three-hour maximum at a meter.
“It doesn’t make any sense to potentially reduce the number of convenient short-term parking places by two-thirds, which is essentially what this new law does,” said Doug Ganson, owner of Sundrez Cards & Gifts at the Landing and For All Seasons, a gift shop and convenience store at BellSouth Tower. “All the data I have ever seen shows this type of parking scheme has never worked anywhere.”
He also pointed out that every block of every street presents different parking needs. He predicts he will feel a different impact at BellSouth compared to the Landing, which is not a retail destination that attracts shoppers from the suburbs, other than weekends and evenings when there is no fee to park on the street.
“The vast majority of my business at the Landing is from people who work Downtown and they are already parked,” he said. “The other source of my traffic is from business travelers and tourists who are staying at the hotels.
“The store at BellSouth is a different story. We developed an element of our business there 20 years ago to collect payments on bills for more than 100 companies. You can pay your phone bill, utility bill, cable bill, credit card bills and many others at that location. People have grown to trust us with their payments and it’s more convenient than going to the JEA or the cable company. It’s a classic situation for short-term parking because people want to get in, pay their bill and then get out, which frees up a parking place for the next customer.”
He added he doesn’t believe parking is as much of a deterrent to retail commerce Downtown as some people believe.
“If you have something a consumer wants, they’ll walk a mile in the snow or rain to get it. Where they have to park to get it is the least of their concerns when it comes to the retail environment.”
Roy Thomas and his wife Deloris own Jacobs Jewelers on Laura Street.
Thomas said he has been selling jewelry Downtown since 1960 and he has seen the meters come and go.
“When I first came Downtown, there were parking meters on both sides of every street including Main Street,” he said. “Back in the early 1960s, the developer who built Roosevelt Mall lobbied the City Council to remove all the meters Downtown, which they did. Then May Cohens’ business went down by 50 percent because all of a sudden the Downtown workers were taking up the parking places during the day and the customers couldn’t find a place to park.”
Harry Pierce has been a State Farm Insurance agent Downtown for 59 years. He also doubts the new regulations are a change for the better.
“We have a 30-minute meter in front of our office,” he said. “People need to get in, do some business and get out. The short-term meters mean more flexibility and give more people a chance to park in that space.”
Gregory Vaccaro has owned Gus and Company Shoe & Luggage Repair for 12 years. He moved to his current location on Laura Street from a shop around the corner on Adams Street three years ago. He said he thinks longer time limits might mean more problems than solutions.
“I think it will be fraught with abuse by people who work Downtown,” said Vaccaro. “You already see the same cars parked on the street every day. I think the situation will be even worse.”
Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision, Inc., said the nonprofit’s surveys indicate most of Downtown’s retail traffic comes from people who work there during the week – and those people don’t need to find a place to park in order to shop.
Lorince believes a possible advantage of the new regulations will be fewer tickets.
“Merchants tell me they want more customers through their doors,” she said. “They are looking for something to drive people to their businesses. If this makes coming Downtown more attractive to more people, it can be a positive thing.”
When asked about the campaign that got the parking meter amendment through the City Council and underneath the mayor’s pen, Lorince said, “It’s great to have merchants who are speaking up.”