At a public meeting earlier this month at Franklin Circle Community Church, merchants from Ohio City's Market District convened with city of Cleveland officials to discuss the city's parking plan at the West Side Market.
The two large Market lots, currently under construction at city expense, will be completed in about three weeks, according to city inspectors. That’s nearly a month ahead of schedule. The reconstruction has added capacity (bringing the total spaces to more than 600), included “green” elements, and improved vehicle flow. The total cost of the project is an estimated $3.3 million.
But to the dismay of patrons and employees of the district’s businesses, paid parking will soon be the reality.
Sam McNulty, who owns Bier Market, Bar Cento, Market Garden and Nano Brew, circulated a petition that called for a flat parking rate 24 hours a day. McNulty and others have been calling for very low rates to ensure that the Market District remains accessible to economically diverse populations.
In the city's current plan, daytime parking would be free for the first hour and $1 per hour after that (with a daily max of $10). At night, the rate would be $2 per hour after a complimentary hour with the same daily max.
"The city's approach is the opposite of the free market approach," McNulty told Scene in a conversation at Nano Brew. "The free market says you should have higher prices when there's higher demand and lower prices when there's lower demand. The city wants to do the opposite. All the petition asks for is a level playing field across the day. It's simpler for visitors to understand and it doesn't skew favoritism towards day or night merchants."
Virtually every business owner in the Market District signed the petition. Many of them were concerned, McNulty said, about parking availability for employees.
The petition also urged the City of Cleveland to create an "Ohio City Business Owner Committee" to come up with a more user-friendly payment system "to avoid the problems and complaints the payment systems have suffered at the Willard Park Garage at City Hall."
McNulty told Scene that groups need to come together to address the parking situation holistically. There is ample space on the weekends at St. Ignatius High School, Lutheran Hospital and Voss Industries, but leaders have not yet figured out how to incorporate that capacity into a neighborhood-wide plan. He also said the city should consider enforcing the meters on W. 25th during the weekends to increase "churn" during the district's busiest times.
"Right now you could park your car on 25th on Friday at 6 p.m.," McNulty said, "and not pick it up until Monday at 8 a.m. and you'd be fine."
Councilman Kerry McCormack said that weekend meter enforcement is “absolutely on the table,” but that it would require City Council legislation. City lawyers are digging into how enforcement would work.
“Obviously if this were citywide, this would have bigger implications,” McCormack said. “We just don’t have clear answers yet.”
McCormack said, more broadly (echoing sentiments from Mayor Jackson’s Chief of Staff Ken Silliman) that the parking conversation must strike a balance.
“This is not a conversation that will have full consensus,” he said. “No one is going to be 100-percent happy. But I think we have to do everything we can to free up parking....Every space matters.”
With regards to the merchants’ petition, McCormack admitted that the flat rate was probably easier to understand. On the other hand, he said, the city does need to “hit certain revenue points” to pay off the lot.
The good news is, there will be a window between when the lot fully opens in November and when parking fees are enforced, likely in early 2017.
“The administration wants to get the technology right,” McCormack said, “and to build as much of a consensus as possible.”