Main Street business owners brought their grievances to the Ames City Council on Tuesday night concerning parking policies they say are deterring customers.
The Ames City Council voted to raise prices on parking meters in the downtown district in July 2018. This is the first time the city has raised these prices since 1994.
“Our first goal is to make the customer happy,” said Gary Youngberg, owner of Ames Silversmithing. “I can tell you anecdotally that businesses receive hundreds of complaints from customers about the parking rates.”
Parking meter prices are one part of a large-scale downtown parking initiative city council is taking on. The council decided City of Ames staff will gather proposals for a simple to moderate parking study of the downtown district and make changes to parking policies with accordance to the study.
Downtown meter parking used to cost 20 cents per hour. Today, meter parking on Main Street costs one dollar per hour, 75 cents per hour and 50 cents per hour based on the parking location and the time limit of the parking spot.
“People used to come in, throw a few quarters in and visit shops up and down the street,” Youngberg said. “Now, people throw a few quarters in, go in and out of a shop or two, then leave.”
Councilman David Martin proposed that it wasn’t the price of parking, but rather the method of using quarters in the meters.
“I understand it’s quite a percentage raise, but objectively it’s a reasonable rate,” Martin said. “The problem is really coming up with so many quarters.”
He proposed a project which would retrofit parking meters with credit card technology, but any decision making was tabled for another meeting.
Business owners were also concerned about parking tickets accumulated by their staff. Currently, there is not consistent parking available for downtown business employees, and it’s hurting them financially.
Currently, business owners, employees and customers frequent parking lots X, Y and Z bordering the train tracks south of Main Street. People can rent spots from the city or purchase a permit for certain spaces allotted to a 24 hour reserve. Otherwise, parking is limited to four hours in this area, and many employees can’t move their cars in the middle of a shift.
The Council discussed several options to remedy this issue, including 10 hour free parking in the lots, as well as having purchasable parking tags that would allow employees to park during the day.
“I’ve talked with 107 business owners and 97 of them said they were in favor of unlimited or 10 hour parking in these lots,” said Cindy Hicks, an executive director of Ames Chamber of Commerce.
Hicks talked about people she met who work downtown and can’t afford the hundreds of dollars in fines they’ve gotten for parking near their workplace.
“I know people who have tickets they can’t pay,” Hicks said. “We’re not talking about people with sizable incomes, these are people making just over minimum wage.”
Council members speculated about possible parking solutions for employees before deciding to table solutions for another meeting.
“My one concern with the unlimited parking is there’s no guarantee that the employees will get those unlimited spots,” said Councilwoman Gloria Betcher. “The employees could get screwed.”
Councilwoman Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen pointed out that employee parking tags could fix that, but Eric Abrams, owner of Duck Worth Wear and The Loft, said it could be a financial burden for employees or businesses to fund those tags.
The Council unanimously voted to approve a $250,000 contract between the City of Ames and a consulting firm, RDG Planning and Design, for a comprehensive plan to guide the city through growth and expansion into 2040.
The vote came after Ames residents voiced concerns about the impending climate crisis.
Kelly Naumann, graduate student in sustainable environments, proposed a written collaboration in the contract to engage the planners in sustainable energy programs.
“It’s important we get the community and local businesses on a sustainable program,” Naumann said. She then presented the Council with a petition for her proposal with 115 signatures.
Erv Klaas, president of the newly founded Ames Climate Action Team, also spoke before the council, and offered insight about the philosophy of the planners. He cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report, which suggested the human race has 12 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions, or environmental catastrophe will ensue.
“This plan proposal maps out a business as usual approach,” Klaas said. “We must drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels. How do we reduce those emissions by 80 percent in the next 10 years? This is not the time for business as usual. I would say we scrap this plan and work on a comprehensive climate plan.”