The plan to overhaul downtown parking in Owen Sound was met with mixed reviews at a public meeting on Thursday night.
More than 50 people were in attendance at the Bayshore Community Centre for the City and Downtown Improvement Area (DIA) board's presentation on the plan to remove metered parking in the downtown core and offer complementary on-street and city lot parking, funded by the DIA levy.
DIA vice-chair Jacquie Furtner says city staff, council and the DIA board have been collaborating on ways to create a more inviting atmosphere downtown, while supporting businesses and ensuring safe traffic circulation.
Three options regarding downtown parking are being proposed:
1) Keeping the status quo
2) Paid prime parking (on main streets) and business sponsored parking in lots for up to five hours
3) Business sponsored parking everywhere, offering two hours free parking on streets and nine hours in lots
The majority of Thursday's meeting was spent discussing the third option, which City Manager Wayne Ritchie explains would see $180,000 of the total DIA member levy used to fund the plan.
The total DIA levy is $238,000.
Maryann Thomas, a DIA member and owner of The Ginger Press, was vocal in her opposition to the complementary parking plan.
"I believe the DIA is an organization that represents the members within the mandate area, and to take $180,000 out of our $225,000 budget is absolute suicide for the organization," she says. "It leaves the downtown members too vulnerable."
Thomas also doubts the idea of removing parking meters will help spur downtown business, pointing to 2nd Avenue East.
"I've been downtown since 1984 and I believe it was 2003 with the 'Big Dig' that they instituted this complementary parking," Thomas explains. "If it were a great success there would be no vacant store fronts on 2nd Avenue right now ... that's not true, we have an increasing number of vacancies."
"The city and board's proposal is to increase free parking and expect a different result, I don't think that's the answer to the problem," she continues. "I think there are significant problems downtown, but I don't believe this will solve the problems."
Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce CEO Peter Reesor says downtown businesses are in competition with the internet, and if they don't make it an easy as possible for consumers to shop there they won't.
DIA board chair Dave Parsons stresses the plan to offer business-sponsored parking downtown will not alter the events and promotion budget for the DIA.
He says the proposal ensures a more simple parking system in downtown Owen Sound.
"Any community we have been to that has gone in the direction of expanding their complimentary parking, all of them we have talked with after have said they'd never go back to paid parking," Parsons says.
One person asked why the city can't fund the parking expenses, rather than drawing from the DIA levy.
Ritchie says other retail districts within the city pay for their own parking and it wouldn't be fair to those ratepayers to subsidize the downtown core.
"Although certainly council supports the downtown core in many ways," he says.
If the city and DIA board preferred proposal does move ahead, Ritchie says the DIA board would remain autonomous and city staff would provide administrative support.
"When they decide what events they want to run, we would facilitate those through city staff," Owen Sound's city manager explains.
Parsons says a public comment period will now be open until Sept. 10.