Parking fee increase sought at downtown garages in Annapolis

Mayor's proposal angers business, shop owners

April 29, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Reversing an earlier decree, Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson wants to raise parking fees in the city's downtown garages - a proposal that has angered business and shop owners, leaving one "speechless."

If the proposal is approved by the city council, motorists would pay, as of July 1, an additional $45 to $50 a month to park at the Noah H. Hillman and Gotts Court garages.

Johnson's proposal also would eliminate the garages' first hour of free parking, popular with tourists and shoppers in the state capital. At Hillman, Johnson wants to double the hourly rate on weekends - 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday - to $2, with a $16 limit for the day.

"We have a scarce resource in downtown Annapolis - it's called parking," Johnson said Friday. "And it's always full."

He said the fee changes would bring the garages in line with private garages in Baltimore and Washington that charge between $140 and $160 a month.

Both garages serve the crowded downtown area. The 435-space Hillman is off Main Street, and the 532-space Gotts Court is close to the inner West Street and serves those using the State House and courts.

Johnson said he hopes the changes would free up more parking for tourists by encouraging other drivers to park at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and take the shuttle downtown.

"There's virtually no tourist parking downtown," he said. "About two-thirds of the slots in the Hillman garage are taken by monthly parkers."

The news of possible fee increases comes nearly three weeks after a press briefing in which the mayor declared there would be no fee increases in fiscal year 2002. The mayor said Friday that when he made those remarks, he was referring to fees that would directly affect residents, such as sewer fees and residential parking.

Several business owners said Friday that they were irked by aspects of the proposal, including eliminating the free first hour at Hillman where shoppers on nearby Main Street park.

Many said the parking break, which went into effect March 1, 1997, was an effective marketing tool.

"I'm very upset about it. We worked for three years to get that first hour free because we found that cities that had [it] provided more opportunity for people to shop and eat without clogging up streets with cars," said Cindy McBride, owner of McBride Gallery on Main Street.

"I just think it's ridiculous to take an action that would harm so many people," she said referring to the business community. "It just leaves me speechless."

"It's nice for customers to shop without having to pay," said manager Katie Mack of The White House at Gorman and Main streets. "They may be less likely to come to Annapolis and go to the Annapolis Mall instead."

Ward 1 Alderman Louise Hammond said she didn't understand how Johnson could propose changes at the parking garages when the city council recently allocated $150,000 to conduct a comprehensive transportation plan that would examine such things as residential parking districts and garage and meter fees.

"It seems out of order for us to be dealing with these fees now when we've just allocated money for this study," Hammond said. "I don't know why these nice little options we had come up with are now being proposed to be taken away with no explanation whatsoever."

Johnson has said that he came up with the fee schedule after asking the Central Services Department and Park America Inc., the private firm that manages the garages, to examine the issue.

He also said his proposal compensates for the lost hour with another proposed change that would give motorists two free hours of parking with a validation stamp or coupon from downtown merchants. But motorists could only use one discount per day under the proposal.

Johnson's proposal for Hillman would raise the restricted weekday fee from $80 to $125 a month. The unrestricted monthly pass would increase from $100 to $150.

Hillman had 232 monthly passes as of late last month.

While eliminating the first free hour and doubling the weekend hourly rate there, the proposal would keep the weekday hourly rate at $1 but raise the maximum 24-hour fee from $8 to $10.

At Gotts Court, the proposal would keep the $1-an-hour charge, but increase monthly passes to $125, up from $80. That garage had 229 monthly passes as of late last month.

The flat overnight rate of $2 for parking between 4 p.m. and 6 a.m. would stay the same.

The mayor's fiscal year 2002 fee schedule also includes increases in boat mooring and recreation and parks fees. The proposed schedule and the overall budget are up for a public hearing at 7 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall.

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