Tear down those 45 signs for downtown parking; they’re out of date: The Rome City Commission, by a 7-1 vote, approved the second reading allowing three hours of free parking in downtown and enforcement from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They also want to study data on parking being collected now by the license plate reader and consider tweaks down the road.
The only no vote was from Commissioner Jamie Doss, oddly enough the commissioner serving on the teetering Downtown Development Authority and its chair of parking. Commissioner Evie McNiece was absent. McNiece and Doss were the no votes on May 20 when the board voted 5-2 to approve the first reading of the three-hour/8-to-6 plan proposed by Commissioner Craig McDaniel.
The vote came after commissioners heard from four speakers – Ira Levy, Jay Shell, Harry Brock and Terri Morgan. Levy cited a recent survey that he said shows downtown merchants might favor yet another plan. Shell, who helped Levy walk that petition around for a few hours, urged the board to pass the McDaniel plan. Brock stood adamant against any meters or kiosks on Broad, and Morgan talked about needs of customers, merchants, even performers.
Doss, who was among the commissioners to speak up after the four downtown speakers were finished, continued his push for the two-hour/8-to-8 plan. He quickly found no support among his colleagues. Doss said he was angered by references to the parking regulations being a “money grab.” However, during the caucus before the commission meeting, Mayor Bill Collins said downtown parking was indeed part of the city revenue stream.
WHAT TO WATCH
What’s next for customers: Technically, you’ve been allowed to park for three hours for free since the May 20 vote. Same with 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday enforcement. Now 45 signs scattered about downtown streets will come down to be replaced with the correct hours.
What’s next for downtown: Hopefully a period of healing as merchants again Monday told of drops in business and sales from the ongoing parking standoff and the previous smoking ordinance.
What’s next for the city: And while the parking debate will continue — probably after the Nov. 5 election featuring six City Commission seats — the back story will be what happens next with the Downtown Development Authority, City Hall administration and even the commission. The DDA’s lack of reputation of its membership was called out by commissioners during the parking debates. Indeed, the parking fumble and customer backlash has exposed deep rifts among the DDA as well as a mix of indecision and fumbled communications from City Hall.
THE PARKING DEBATE
From Monday’s meeting: Apparently we missed some great stuff from the Monday evening caucus. That said, the City Commission meeting dealing with parking went in the following order, starting with the speakers:
- Ira Levy: He’s the first one up. He cites fees collected from downtown businesses in the 100 through 500 blocks. He includes liquor and beer taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, etc. “He all amounts to a little over $20 million… a yearly figure.” Talks about his petition that has been carried to other businesses along Broad Street assisted by Jay Shell for part of it. Talks about a combination of extended free parking on Broad and more free time in the decks. Some improvements around the decks. Encourages brochures with the final plan to distribute to all to stop “misinformation.” Talks about businesses seeing fewer sales since all the parking debate began. “We ask you to listen to your merchants” and what customers are telling them.
- Jay Shell: Asks those in the crowd to raise their hands if they signed the Levy petition. Asks them to “please vote what you voted last month,” the three free hours/8 a.m.-6 p.m. plan OK’d by the commission May 20. Also asks why the city even messed with downtown parking and that, in caucus, the city owned up to the parking situation being about revenue.
- Harry Brock: “This is all noise right now, I know the end game is paid parking on Broad Street.” Brock has been a very vocal opponent to meters and kiosks on Broad Street, and says the latest study the city commissioned was by a company that sells parking meters (draws laugh from crowd). Brock says there were 15 vacancies in downtown a year ago; today, 15 vacancies (including his building). He cites what other communities are — and, such as Woodstock, aren’t doing — about parking. Says City Manager Sammy Rich has pushed paid parking for 15 years in his government positions (county and city).
- Terri Morgan: Pleas for people to come downtown. Talks about the warm reception for the extra hour of free parking (three rather than two hours). Says musicians performing downtown can’t unload in the two-hour limit. Says local music, local shops and restaurants add a unique vibe to downtown. “8-to-6 is perfect, three hours is key.”
Mayor Bill Collins, after the speakers, says Shell’s comments on revenue were right. He also commends the work Rich has done. But Collins also says missteps might have been made. Collins recalls the motion approved 5-2 at the May 20 meeting and yet the Levy survey might have brought some new items to light.
Commissioner Craig McDaniel, who proposed the May 20 parking resolution, speaks next. Says he has “discussed parking every day for the past two weeks with somebody.” Whatever the board does won’t please everyone, he says, but the three hours/8-to-6 plan has been well received. Says take 90 days to study parking data, especially from the license plate reader crew. He again puts his motion on the table and notes it does not — and did not — include the decks.
Commissioner Randy Quick seconds the motion.
Commissioner Jamie Doss: Thanks downtown investors. He says he’s the new parking chair for the Downtown Development Authority and he’s learning as he goes. (Doss was one of two “no” votes on May 20 of the McDaniel plan). He makes a pitch to stay with 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and two hours of free parking. Doss says “we have 45 incorrect signs” downtown right now. He continues a push rejecting the McDaniel Plan. Says he’s offended by the use of the term money grab. He urges colleagues to vote against the motion and propose a new one.
Commissioner Wendy Davis: Talks about when she “cheers” when she can’t find a space and has to circle downtown blocks. That means downtown businesses are full and busy. One issue is employee parking on Broad Street, she says. The wider plan hurts customers as well as employees who continue to park on Broad. “What we need less of is confusing.” Says the public understands the McDaniel plan; pass it and then address other issues.
Commissioner Milton Slack: Says there’s not an ordinance on the book we can’t change.
Quick: Says simplicity is needed.
Commissioner Sundai Stevenson: Doesn’t want another proposal to cause a delay. Let’s vote on (the motion), get the LPR data and move forward.
Commissioner Bill Irmscher: Says he’s in favor of 8-to-6.