Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Paid on-street parking in discussion for downtown

By Jim Hagerty

CITY HALL — The City of Rockford Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday proposed a way to charge for on-street parking downtown using a smartphone app to help close a more than $10 million budget deficit.

The app system would allow drivers to pay for parking using their phones. It would alert them when their paid time is reached. Right now, motorists must move their cars every hour or two to avoid being ticketed. Drivers using the app could pay for extended time instead of finding a new space.

The change won’t be immediate, however. Rockford leaders have mulled bringing back paid on-street parking for years. The measure has always fizzled as aldermen feared meters would deter visitors from coming downtown. With the city now on the rise, monthly permit holders who’ve been parking downtown for years are shouldering most of the capital and operational burdens. And because Rockford is depending heavily on tourism to rebuild Rockford’s core, officials say it is vital that downtown be accommodating for visitors.

“Parking is often times their first impression of downtown,” Finance Director Carrie Eklund said. “And to make sure that’s a positive first impression, we can do that if we have some additional revenue in that fund for some of the capital and operational costs.”

The system could be a hard sell to aldermen though. While the committee voted to send the measure to the full city council, some say paid parking is all about timing.

“I realize it’s a sore subject,” Third Ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg said. “Downtown is going in the right direction. But I feel that at (this) time, it’s not at a point we are able to charge for on-street parking.”

Tuneberg added that he is willing to partake in further talks but would proceed with caution. A host of downtown businesses are in the Third Ward and they’ll be the fore of the discussion.

“I am in support of small business (and) I would have to reiterate that,” he said. “I appreciate the app-based system we are looking at and I appreciate the parking issues. It is something that needs to be tackled. At the same time, there are plenty of places to park downtown that either don’t have restrictions or for a small amount of money someone could park longer than that two-hour time frame. I know from being in other cities that in many downtowns, if you can find a place to park within two or three blocks, that is considered ‘hero parking.’ I look forward to conversations going forth.”

Alderman John Beck is also in favor of advancing the issue but reiterated that nothing concrete has been placed on the table.

“Moving forward on this is just to let staff investigate it to see how it would work, what it would cost and bring back any recommendations for approval by city council,” Beck said.

Rockford saw a slight increase in revenue from parking in 2013 when it installed hourly meters in four downtown parking decks. Meters at on BMO Harris Bank Center concourse, Pioneer deck, West State and Wyman deck and the one at West State and South Main sold $12,000 in hourly parking passes in their first month, double the previous monthly average.

Since then, repairs have forced temporary closures while talks of building a new downtown structure have stalled because of budget constraints. Weekends remain the busiest for the structures.

The city, through ABM Parking Services,charges $60 per month for a monthly parking pass. Government employees are charged $54. ABM manages the city’s estimated 8,000 municipal parking spaces. Rockford’s annual fee to ABM for doing so is about $900,000. R.


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