We’ve worked hard to bravely go where governments offer fear to go — into the perilous world of social media.
Kent was an early adopter of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and mobile apps in order to stay connected with our residents in the ways that they like to connect. Citizen engagement was a dying art but modern technology has given it a second wind.
Like it or not, social media and all the smart phones, tablets, gadgets and gizmo’s, have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. Letting your City know how you feel about an issue has never been easier. Trust me, I’ve received text messages in the middle of the night.
With the PARTA transit center and parking deck opening this week accompanied by their announcement of free parking for the month of May, the social networks have started to light up with questions of paying for parking in downtown Kent.
In particular we’re hearing some rumbling about the prospect of metered parking stations planned for later this year on certain downtown streets.
I imagine it’s only a matter of time before I get a tweet that looks something like this:
“Exciting things happening in downtown Kent, but paid parking, really? #DtownBuzzKill. ”
Hopefully they spare me the Instagram pic that equally expresses that sentiment.
In the spirit of early intervention I thought it might make sense to share some thoughts on the topic of paid parking in Kent.
Paid parking isn’t here yet but it’s coming — probably in June for the PARTA deck and fall for the new on-street parking stations.
Please keep in mind that everything we’ve done for the downtown was done to help create a place where businesses would thrive so no one cares more or wants to see businesses succeed more than us. The last thing we want to do is to derail the enthusiasm for the new and improved downtown Kent.
We talked at great length with other cities, with professional parking consultants, with Council and perhaps most importantly with downtown merchants, and the message that we heard was if we want downtown business to succeed we need a parking plan that stops people from parking 8 hours a day in front of the shops and not even shopping in the shops.
We took all points of view into consideration but the voice that we listened to the closest were the downtown business owners who urged us to help keep parking cycling in front of their shops. With the availability of the deck close-by and free parking around the corner, the merchants were supportive of returning to paid/meter parking for the prime time spots.
We took a balanced, market-based approach with the downtown parking plan — if you want to park at the front door there’s a small price to pay but the further out you go the cheaper the parking becomes, and there’s plenty of free parking within a couple of blocks walk. In actual numbers, about 50% of the total 1,150 parking spots downtown will be free and 1 out of 4 parking spots will be metered so we think that leaves plenty of options for people to find a price point that works for them.
From the public information perspective, because this is a merchant-driven parking plan, we’re calling the likely .25 cents parking charge a “Quarter for Commerce.” The message is if you want small mom and pop shops to survive they need your help not only by you purchasing goods in their stores but also by keeping the parking spaces free flowing so more customers can come in and buy too.
The Parking Plan is actually a Commerce Plan, and it’s absolutely not something that the City is implementing to raise revenues for the City. On the contrary, I suspect whatever revenues we end up collecting will be plowed directly back into the downtown to try to cover the increasing maintenance costs that we’re gaining thanks to our bustling downtown, e.g., more trash cans, more street cleaning, etc.
Small merchants have the odds stacked against them, e.g., no big marketing budgets, little advertising funds, unproven business plans, etc., so we think it’s important to do anything we can to help them survive — and it turns out that making sure parking continuously cycles was at the top of the merchant’s list. So we’re making an investment in the parking technology on their behalf.
Concerns for a parking fee having a chilling effect on the downtown traffic was something we wrestled with long and hard. At the end of the day we decided it was worth the investment in the parking technology so that we have the ability to give the merchants what they want at the start — and if it turns out that the merchants change their mind and find the parking fee unfavorable to their business, the technology is flexibile enough to reduce fees or even eliminate fees during certain times of the day. We’d be willing to do that if that if that’s what it will take.
One of the things we probably all have to keep in mind is that this isn’t your grandfather’s downtown anymore. The new paint has been mixed and can’t be unmixed — meaning that when we started down this path to revitalization it was going to bring a fair amount of change and what worked in yesterday’s downtown may not work any more. That’s a hard message to convey but we’ve got to keep up with the changing times.
I think one of the lessons we learned from other cities is that if you’ve got a great location that really is a destination, the small parking fee is a non-factor. If you’re desintation is not so great, the parking fee can be a sore spot that gets blamed for an already declining downtown.
Obviously we’re aiming to be a great destination so we’re hopeful that the fee will be a non-factor but we always try to have a Plan B, C or D ready to pull of the shelf. The technology that we’re purchasing will give us those options should we need them.