Paid parking pondered

Meters, garage seriously considered for downtown

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A sign advertising public parking in downtown Alpena is seen on Wednesday. The Alpena Downtown Development Authority is considering a plan that could lead to paid parking in downtown. If parking meters are installed, revenue would be used to help cover the cost of a parking garage. The issue will be discussed at Tuesday’s DDA meeting.

ALPENA — In many big cities, you have to drop a few quarters into a parking meter when you want to shop or grab a bite to eat downtown.

That hasn’t been the case in Alpena, but, now, it appears the the Alpena Downtown Development Authority and the City of Alpena are considering adding paid parking downtown.

If installed, the revenue from parking meters would be invested in parking infrastructure, including a parking garage, which local officials say is needed and critical for further growth.

According to DDA Executive Director Anne Gentry, the DDA wrapped up it strategic planning sessions last month and the number-one priority was parking meters.

This is not the first time paid parking has been considered for downtown.

The last time the idea was considered, in 2017, it was met with resistance from the public. The city used to have parking meters, but they were removed in the late 1970s or 1980s.

Gentry said she understands residents’ concerns, but also wants people to know that, in order to attract developers for property on the Thunder Bay River, Royal Knight Theater, and the old antique mall property downtown, more parking options are likely needed.

That means a garage needs to be built, Gentry said. In order to achieve that, revenue from meters would be critical.

“The process of moving toward a garage includes parking meters as a first step,” Gentry said. “Just building a parking garage first and having free parking elsewhere would not work, because everyone would still park where it’s free. If we ever want to move toward a garage, we have to have meters throughout the downtown.”

Gentry said one of the most common questions developers ask when considering a large commercial or residential development is, where is the parking?

“If these buildings, which have huge square footage, get offices in them and an additional 50 people become employed downtown, where are they going to park?” she said. “We are getting to the point to where we’re near capacity, and we don’t want more parking lots, we want a parking garage.”

Gentry said more parking is also needed as more and larger events are held downtown, such as the Blues Festival and the Sunrise Suds Tap Takeover beer festival.

Revenue from parking fees would likely go to the DDA and be used to pay for investments in the meters and garage. Gentry said the proceeds would be used on parking issues, which have been ongoing downtown for years. The revenue would not bolster the DDA’s financial bottom line.

“The revenues would go toward parking lot maintenance, beautification, and a garage,” Gentry said. “It’s not like we would be just keeping the money. It would be reinvested into improvements. We are not looking into this to make money.”

Alpena Planning and Development Director Adam Poll said the cost of a parking garage varies, depending on the number of parking spaces. He said a new garage could cost between $25,000 and $35,000 per space. He said there are also a few different ways to fund construction.

“The most prominent way to fund one is by getting bonds and also using the proceeds from the garage to to help pay them off,” he said. “There are also other Brownfield plans and that type of thing for tax revenue capture to actually get it constructed.”

Poll said that, once a garage is built, officials would still need money for upkeep and maintenance, as well as for power for lighting the garage and running elevators. He said those costs could also come from the revenue generated by parking meters.

Getting the public on board with the idea of paying for prime parking downtown would be critical, Gentry said. She said educating residents and involving them in the process is necessary.

“If you look at other communities, like Petoskey or Traverse City, I never have a hard time finding parking,” she said. “I think people would get accustomed to paying for it. It wouldn’t have to be expensive. Instead, this is a way to prepare for the future and make the downtown what we want it to be.”

People often picture old gray, metal parking meters that accept only quarters or tokens. Gentry said newer, more high-tech meters offer a broad variety of options, which would allow the DDA and city to customize them.

“The features range from paying with credit card to allowing businesses to validate parking, to us being able to shut the meters off when we want for things like holidays,” she said. “There is a lot of flexibility with them.”

Gentry said the idea will be discussed at the DDA meeting Tuesday, but she said it will likely be sometime before a final decision is made and action taken.

Any decision made by the DDA board would also have to be approved by the Alpena Municipal Council.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.