The City of Ames moved towards parking solutions for downtown Ames at their Tuesday meeting.
The council had raised the rates of parking meters by 500 percent — from 20 cents an hour to $1 dollar an hour — for the first time in 20 years in July, but business owners at the meeting said the decision has created trouble for them and their customers.
Gary Youngberg, the owner of Ames Silversmithing, said the decision has impacted his business, “more negativity than any other event in [his] business life.” Youngberg claimed he has heard people say they have stopped shopping in the downtown area altogether since the rate change.
One option council looked into was implementing a hang-tag system for employees and business owners to use as a monthly purchase that would grant the owner of the tag unlimited access to the four hour parking spaces in the downtown area.
Initial concerns were raised that the tags would fill up parking spots that are already limited and hard to find.
As the parking rates have increased, more people have been pushed to park into the four hour parking lots and even out of the downtown area entirely, and with the increased demand for those lots it has also been more difficult to grab one of those spots.
“We are finding that these lots are sometimes full so its like you are buying for the chance to park all day but also the chance to not be able to park there at all,” Ward One Representative Gloria Betcher said.
Cindy Hicks, the executive director of downtown Ames, recommended the city increase the four-hour limit to ten hours based on a report from 95 percent of downtown Ames business owners saying they wanted that solution.
The council decided to create a hang-tag system and set the rate at $10 a month on a 5-1 decision. Betcher was the only vote against the hang tags.
At-Large representative Amber Corrieri said the hang tags will be a temporary solution while the city explores other solutions and ideas.
One of these potential solutions was to have city staff look into the economic impacts of lowering the rates of the meters to 50 cents an hour. The business owners present at the meeting said this rate is preferable to the current rate as people would be more inclined to shop and park in the different stores on Main Street.
“When we charge a dollar an hour and people don’t pay, we aren’t making any money,” Betcher said. “If we charged 50 cents an hour and people pay that, we get 50 cents an hour when right now we might be getting 0 cents.”
Another option the city council directed staff to look into was the possibility for Ames residents to pay for smart cards with a credit card that can then be easily used at meters around Ames.
One option the city council did not move towards was to further action with a parking study from the city as the validity of any results were called into question. The potential study would cost the city $70,000 according to reports from the city.
If a potential study were to ask residents if they wanted reduced rates, Ward Two Representative Tim Gartin said nearly everyone would say yes. At the same time, however, people want more parking lots and spaces, which won’t happen without adequate funding.