Fells Point to lose free parking

Machines to be installed for up to 150 prime spaces

Aim is to create more turnover

Use of garages is urged for longer-term parkers

July 04, 2004|By Matt Whittaker | Matt Whittaker,SUN STAFF

Some things about Fells Point have remained unchanged for ages, like breakfast at Jimmy's and mussels at Bertha's.

But there is one thing that is about to become a memory in the heart of the popular waterfront: free parking.

Up to 150 spaces -- which had been free, prime curbside real estate along Broadway, Thames and a few other nearby streets -- will fall under the governance of newfangled parking machines that spit out ticket stubs for drivers to place on their dashboards. Some machines have been installed, and more are coming.

The Parking Authority of Baltimore City says the move will benefit day-trippers to Fells Point -- who go there to dine, drink and shop -- by creating more turnover at parking spots. Some area merchants agree, but not everyone is happy.

"I hate them," Melissa Salzman said of the new machines. She works at .925 the Silver Store on Thames Street. "Being an employee, it makes it so there's really no parking down here. I don't always have money to pay for parking."

Motorists like Salzman are among those being targeted in the change to more paid parking in Fells Point, city officials said. Workers arrive early and grab the free spots, forcing business patrons to hunt for spaces.

The city hopes the new machines, which allow up to four hours of parking, will encourage long-term parkers to use commercial garages. One, in the 800 block of S. Caroline St., caters to monthly parkers, and another, in the 1500 block of Thames St., has hundreds of spots open daily, its operator said.

"Unfortunately nobody parked in [the garages] because there's free parking," said Jeff Sparrow, the former executive director of the parking authority, who left that job Thursday. "We wanted to have a good balance down there."

Sparrow was asked to resign because of potential conflicts of interest arising from his partial ownership of two parking garages; neither is in Fells Point.

In addition to the free spaces and the garages on Thames and Caroline streets, Fells Point has conventional, single-space parking meters along several streets -- including Broadway, where those meters will be replaced by the new machines.

After the new machines are installed, there will still be free on-street parking in the neighborhood -- but off the beaten path.

Parking machines

The high-tech parking machines, which have a yellow-and-black EZ Park logo, are also being used downtown, mainly on and around Charles Street, and 10 of the estimated 35 intended for Fells Point are in place. One machine covers multiple parking spots. In addition to portions of Thames and Broadway, the machines will cover stretches of Lancaster and Caroline streets, according to the parking authority. The machines are being used on a tryout basis, and the city will decide after a few months whether to keep them.

Motorists can use coins or credit cards in the machines, which print tickets that go inside the windshield and indicate how long a car can be legally parked. Parking costs $1 an hour -- credit cards require a minimum $1 purchase -- for a maximum of four hours. The machines do not take bills.

In Fells Point, payment is required from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, and an unexpired ticket can be used anywhere in the city covered by the machines, allowing motorists to move from spot to spot during the time period indicated on the ticket.

`Deterring business'

Some merchants say customers will stay away because of the four-hour limit and how late the paid parking is in effect.

"It's definitely deterring business now," said Douglas Woods, owner of the Admiral's Cup Bar and Grille. "It's turning off a lot of people from coming down here at night because they have to pay until midnight."

Woods wants free parking after 7 p.m. and on Sundays.

John Brown, a bartender at another Thames Street tavern, complained about the cost and inconvenience of the new machines. And, he said, the system is confusing, contending that there is "not a whole lot of signage out there."

Customer turnover

Supporters of the new machines argue that the new paid parking creates a freer flow of customers moving in and out of parking spaces.

Nicholas Johnson, who owns Su Casa furniture store on Thames Street and two other Fells Point businesses, said his sales have remained steady since the EZ Park machines were put in place.

"On the surface, I think it will achieve exactly what it was intended to do," Johnson said.

Others said that as the area becomes more familiar with the machines, things will go more smoothly.

"We're just going through growing pains as a community," said Susan Singer, owner of Eclectic Elements Home Decor at 813 S. Broadway and president of the Fells Point Development Corp. "I think ultimately it will be for the better."

Tracie Kendall, a retail manager and Mount Vernon resident who was making a stop in Fells Point recently, said she is comfortable with the new parking system.

"I've had an easier time finding a space," she said. "It's easy; you don't have to worry about looking for quarters."

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