A proposal for downtown parking

It seems like Alpena officials have been talking about downtown parking for a zillion years.

Truth be told, I expect they will be talking about that same subject for a zillion more.

Downtown parking is like that sore itch that just never seems to go away.

When I worked in Wheeling, W.Va. as a rookie reporter, the free parking at the newspaper seemed like it “was over the river and through the woods.” In reality, it was next to the Ohio River, along the Baltimore and Ohio railroad lines that paralleled the river, and was a bit of gravel spread over a dusty clearing.

After every rain, it felt like you were driving over a washboard to get back there and park. It was not pretty, but it was free, so long as you were ready to hike it there.

Imagine my joy then when I visited Alpena for the first time and discovered that parking downtown actually was free. Literally, I thought it a great benefit of the job, even though The Alpena News had nothing to do with setting that policy.

I was elated to think of no more late-evening walks to the river to round up my vehicle.

The perk of free parking was more important to me at that time than I care to admit. I loved the progressive thinking of city officials who established that policy, and I saw it as a business-friendly move that would result in extra traffic flow into downtown businesses.

Like most good things, however, there always are exceptions to the rule. Some business owners took to parking outside their business, some downtown employees often abused the privilege of parking too close to their businesses. Before long, parking became a whole lot of accusations, finger-pointing and ill will.

Fast forward from that time 33 years ago to today, where we see the issue yet again. And that, as I said, is nothing new, either.

Back when I was president of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority, the board was discussing the same things, considering similar options, and heard the same complaints.

I always have advocated from this position for free parking.

However, I also know that, if we ever are going to build a parking garage in the downtown, which I also am quite in favor of, we need revenue to make that happen. And, if paid parking would discourage misuse of parking privileges by downtown employees, then that would be beneficial, as well.

My position has changed today, and I would suggest DDA officials bring paid parking of some type back to the downtown, but at the same time they also establish a system that would reward visitors who shop downtown. I propose that, for every purchase made in a downtown store, the shopper would be reimbursed the cost for one hour of parking. If a person visited three stores and made purchases in each, that person would receive three hours of parking reimbursement.

Regrettably, I have come to agree that paid parking is needed to address some of the parking abuses that occur around town. It also is apparent that traffic flow today is greater than ever downtown, and we as a community need to provide adequate spaces for shoppers to take advantage of.

Conversation has begun again on the topic and I’m sure many people will weigh in on the subject.

Spirited and lively debate is good and indeed welcomed, just so long as we don’t take another zillion years to reach a conclusion.

This time around, I believe those in charge need to reach a decision that will benefit the downtown well into the future.

I wish them well.

Trust me, they’re going to need it.

Bill Speer recently retired as the publisher and editor of The News. He can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com.


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