Downtown merchants want parking plan revoked

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About 80 downtown business owners and employees have signed a petition urging Republican Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration to nix major plans to revamp metered parking in Indianapolis.

Zach Adamson, who owns the salon Just Hair near Ohio and Pennsylvania streets, circulated the petition among establishments mainly on the east side of downtown. Adamson plans to run for City-County Council in 2011 as a Democrat.

He and other signatories are concerned about the city’s 50-year lease of the meters, which would double hourly rates from 75 cents to $1.50 by 2012 at meters in Broad Ripple and busy downtown areas.

It also would add Saturday hours and extend hours into the evening in those areas. 

The city’s share of the revenue from the lease—expected to be more than $400 million—would go toward improving roads and sidewalks in the areas near the meters and possibly adding a parking garage in Broad Ripple. Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the Dallas-based company leasing the meters, also would put in high-tech meters that accept credit cards.

Among the roughly 135 people who signed the petition are local Democratic Party officials and candidates, but several others are employees and owners of businesses such as salons, gift shops, printing shops and food vendors at Indianapolis City Market.

Many say they worry that the higher rates and longer hours—until 11 p.m. in Broad Ripple and 9 p.m. in bustling downtown areas—would deter people from parking in those parts of the city.

“Downtown is fragile still,” said Ross Whitfield, who owns an insurance agency on Massachusetts Avenue and signed the petition. “We don’t need that if we’re competing with other satellite cities. They don’t have a parking issue. Why do we want to create a parking issue?”

But city officials say they think the new setup will help businesses. They say higher rates will persuade more people to use the meters for short-term purposes, creating turnover and opening up spaces for patrons.

They also point out that meter rates haven’t been increased in decades, and the $1.50 hourly rate would put Indianapolis on par with other comparably sized cities.

“The tradeoff is this—if you want increased on-street turnover and the ability to use credit and debit cards at the meters, the city has got to find a way to pay for that somehow,” said Michael Huber, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development. “The technology is old, and we’ve had the same rates for 35 years.”

Huber and representatives from downtown booster group Indianapolis Downtown Inc. have been in contact for several months with groups such as the Massachusetts Avenue Merchants Association and the Greater Indianapolis Hotel & Lodging Association. Fred Laughlin, vice president of management services for IDI, said members have been accepting of the changes.

David Andrichik, owner of the Chatterbox Tavern, said he’s supportive of the proposal because he sees a need for turnover outside of his Mass Ave establishment, where some cars occupy spaces all weekend because they don’t have to pay.

“The biggest concern is those who aren’t our customers occupying the spaces when they shouldn’t be occupying the spaces,” Andrichik said.

Andrichik also would welcome the additional money for road and sidewalk improvements, from which he and other Mass Ave merchants will benefit.

Adamson said he’d like to see those things, as well, but not to the detriment of his business.

“This is absolutely the worst time to raise the rates, in the middle of a recession,” Adamson said. “We’re counting every customer who comes in. Adding more [expense] is going to be a message to people to not come downtown.”

The City-County Council will determine whether to approve the parking proposal. A council committee hearing on the issue scheduled for Monday has been postponed, Huber said, to thoroughly vet public questions.

Council leaders say they’ve haven’t rescheduled the hearing, but it will be after the next full council meeting on Sept. 20.

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