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Alpena DDA’s plan could mean paid parking downtown

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Parking areas in downtown Alpena notify people of the rules, but some still disobey them. Some local officials believe paid parking will help open up more curbside parking near stores for seniors and those with disabilities to use.

ALPENA — Residents and visitors in Alpena are a step closer to having to pay to park in some areas downtown.

Local officials say the move is necessary because some residents who live downtown and employees park their vehicles in front of local businesses for hours at a time, shrug off parking violations, and take up stalls intended for customers.

There are nearly 2,000 parking stalls downtown, but few near popular stores and restaurants.

Some parking lots that are a short walk from the center of downtown could remain free, local officials say.

A parking meter that monitors multiple parking spaces can cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 each.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Lines of cars fill the parking stalls on 2nd Avenue in downtown Alpena on Tuesday night. The Alpena Municipal Council and Alpena Downtown Development Authority are considering parking meters for some areas downtown.

As downtown grows, the demand for more convenient parking is expected to increase and some public officials believe a long-term solution to the problem is needed now.

At Monday’s Alpena Municipal Council meeting, council directed the Alpena Downtown Development Authority to devise a plan that could lay the groundwork for paid parking.

Before making any final decision, the council wants to know where and how much paid parking is needed and how much the initial investment would be.

Prices for parking have not been established, but some estimates could be included in the plan. There is no timetable set for the proposed project to be forwarded to the council.

Councilwoman Cindy Johnson said it would fall on the DDA to fund the project if it moves forward, but added paid parking is probably something that needs to be considered.

Johnson said over the years, the city and DDA have taken steps to free up high demand parking spaces close to downtown businesses, but the efforts really never worked.

Now, Johnson said, it is time to consider other options, including paid parking, which may persuade people who live and work downtown to park in areas that are free and allow customers to have the curbside spots.

“We keep trying to put Band-Aids on something where the results still aren’t working for us,” she said. “Our Band-Aids aren’t working and we need a permanent solution.”

Anne Gentry, the DDA executive director, said she will work with the DDA board to research meters and put a detailed plan together. She said previous discussions included paid curbside parking on portions of 2nd Avenue and Chisholm Street near the heart of downtown and the parking lot behind Mango’s Tequila Bar.

There is a two-hour parking limit in those areas now, but people often leave their vehicles there for much longer, Gentry said.

“Paid parking really works the best in areas where there is the highest demand where you want the highest turnover,” Gentry said. “We would keep some parking free, so it’s not like we would meter every single space.”

Several business owners in downtown Alpena aren’t thrilled with the prospect of having paid parking near and around their stores, offices, and restaurants.

The Black Sheep Pub owner Paul Cronger said parking can be a challenge around his restaurant, but added he is more fearful that charging people to park their car could deter them from coming downtown at all.

“I think it could hurt our sales and people will decide not to shop downtown and this trend we are seeing downtown might be hurt by it,” Cronger said. “The only businesses that will benefit from this will be the chain stores that have their own parking lot.”

Cronger speculated that when the city removed parking meters from the downtown in the 1970s, it was to encourage people to shop downtown instead of at new developments beginning to spring up in areas away from downtown.

The Style Wherehouse owner Jessica Krueger moved her store from the Alpena Mall less than a year ago. Her store is on 2nd Avenue right in the middle of downtown. She said often she hears from customers that they had driven past the store before, but didn’t stop because there was no parking near the entrance.

Thankfully, Krueger said, they returned later, but she wonders how many drove past and still haven’t come in to shop. She said the parking confusion and debate on what to do about it is the only negative of being downtown instead of the mall.

“I went from having all of the parking in the world and no visibility, to having lots of visibility and some parking problems,” Krueger said. “If downtown keeps growing, then what? I don’t think meters are the right thing. We just need to have rules where the primary parking is for the customer.”

Over the last decade, there has been a push to revitalize downtown and make it more appealing for people and businesses. The efforts made have worked, as there is little available space for new businesses to open.

Still, there are some big projects in the works and councilman Mike Nowak said it would be wise to act now on a parking plan rather than wait until the situation becomes more imperative.

The former State Theater and Royal Knight Theater are being renovated, as is the Vaughn, which is the former Vaughn’s store. Marriott is considering building a Fairfield Inn and Suites hotel at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Water Street, on the Thunder Bay River, which will also increase parking demand.

“I am for exploring and implementing paid parking because this is the only option I can see for expanding parking needs for the downtown,” Nowak said. “Downtown is going to grow over the next few years and we need to be out in front of the parking needs.”

Johnson said because the DDA would pay for the meters, it would keep the revenue generated from them. She said the DDA would use the funds to pay for the meters, beautify the downtown, or host events.The money from the meters could also help lead to a parking structure being built, which is the ultimate goal, even if it is years away, officials say.

Gentry said to have a parking structure built, it would take either a public-private partnership or a private company could build one. She said in order to have a structure, where people would need to pay to use it, paid parking in other areas is necessary.

In 2018 it was estimated a new parking structure would cost about $2 million.

“If we have paid parking in a parking structure, and free parking everywhere else, nobody would use it,” she said. “Paid parking is essential to getting a parking garage and very expensive and kind of go hand-in-hand with one another.”

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