When city parking service employees decided to make people pay for parking in a Haymarket parking lot until 2 a.m., the intent was to make it easier for customers to find spaces at peak hours.
But they were not thinking about business employees in the area who need inexpensive parking, said Aja Martin, general manager for Indigo Bridge Books and Café, whose employees used that nearby lot with free parking after 6 p.m.
The city changed the free hours in the surface parking lot in mid-June when the city began using multi-space meters installed in the lot, said Wayne Mixdorf, the city's parking manager.
The parking staff knew there was little turnover in that lot in the evening, meaning employees were using that lot, south of Lincoln Station.
After 6 p.m. people parked in that south lot for the rest of the evening, or for large parts of the evening, Mixdorf said. So those spaces weren’t available for customers coming and going from businesses, restaurants and bars in the area, he said.
The city also loses money on that surface lot, called the South Depot Lot, which it leases from the Arter Group for $90,000 a year. Last fiscal year the city brought in about $68,000 in parking revenue on the lot.
The additional revenue from the evening hours may help offset that loss, Mixdorf said.
He said parking staff reached out ahead of the change to business owners to explain what they were planning and to hear concerns.
“The vast majority were positive about it,” said Mixdorf. Businesses understood the city was trying to create greater turnover and open up spaces for customers, he said.
That lot is premium space for customers of nearby businesses because it is very close, Mixdorf said.
But Martin said she didn’t know about the change ahead of time and doesn’t think it is a good solution for anyone, in particular staff.
Haymarket and downtown businesses are already disadvantaged because there is not free parking, like there is at Gateway and SouthPointe malls, she said.
Parking "has been a known deterrent of customers the entire time I have worked here. Obviously even longer. One of the only marketing tools available to combat this was to say that nights and Sundays were free,” she said in an open letter to the city.
Martin said she was curious about a decision that she believes will hurt businesses on all levels.
"It seems like personal profits have trumped the good of the group as a whole,” she wrote.
The city provides three kinds of downtown parking, all with the same hourly rate of $1.25.
Metered street parking is free on Sundays and after 6 p.m. City parking garages provide the first hour free but charge for the rest of the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Surface lots with multi-space parking meters are the first metered stalls to charge on Sundays and after 6 p.m.
This will apply to surface lots only. The city has no plans to change the on-street metered parking hours, Mixdorf said.
Martin, who said no one from the city has responded to her letter, wonders what tools the city has to ease the burden of the new parking costs for employees.
At least one Haymarket business began offering help with parking after the changes in the South Depot Lot, using the city’s discounted I-Park cards.
Rodizio Grill has purchased cards, which if purchased in August and January provide for hourly parking at half-rate.
Employees use the cards at the nearby Lumberworks Garage or an arena-related garage, and the restaurant deducts their card use from their pay.
Parking has always been an issue, even before the change in the nearby surface lot, said Crystal Dotzler, assistant manager at Rodizio.
Employees are loving it, she said of the help with parking costs. They can park in a garage that is close and secure, she said.
Mixdorf said the city is happy to work with employers.
Except for Rodizio "we've gotten almost no response from employers about them subsidizing their employee parking," he said.