The Downtown Improvement Area board is considering a proposal to redirect the bulk of its levy to the city so Owen Sound can provide complimentary parking throughout its core.
It’s a plan board chair Dave Parsons said will benefit the downtown, its businesses and visitors.
“I really do see it as a win-win. Will there be a lot of change? Yes, there will be. Is it good for the city? I believe so,” he said in an interview.
The proposal, along with two others related to the operations of the Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area (OSDIA) and parking in the core, will be presented for public feedback at a meeting Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre.
The final decision on the future of the OSDIA will rest with council, which must approve the organization’s budget.
The OSDIA, created by downtown businesses in 1973, receives a levy of nearly $230,000, which is collected by the city from property owners within the OSDIA’s boundaries.
About 64 per cent of the organization’s expenses are for administration-related costs, but it also spends nearly $40,000 on marketing and events, $26,000 on downtown beautification and $14,000 on board, security and membership-related costs.
It also gives $25,000 a year to the city so Owen Sound can provide complimentary parking on 2nd Avenue East between 7th and 8th streets and 10th and 11th streets.
The complimentary parking proposal, first introduced by Coun. Brian O’Leary and presented by city manager Wayne Ritchie at the OSDIA’s June meeting, would see another $180,000 from the organization’s levy going to the city so it could offer complimentary, two-hour parking in all on-street spaces that now have meters as well as free parking, for up to nine hours per vehicle, in the municipal lots.
To make that money available, the OSDIA’s downtown office would close and it would no longer have its own staff.
It would, however, still have its own autonomous board, which would make decisions related to the downtown, along with a budget of about $50,000 to $60,000 – from the OSDIA levy – for events, promotions and beautification.
Work currently done by OSDIA staff, like organizing the events, board support and beautification, would be brought in-house at city hall and performed by city staff.
Ritchie told the board in June that a recommendation would be made to council to increase, starting in 2019, the amount the city spends on maintenance in the core if the OSDIA changes are adopted.
After receiving Ritchie’s report, the board voted to approve holding a joint public meeting with the city and OSDIA and “make a recommendation to proceed with” the plan of complimentary parking in the downtown area, according to the June 27 OSDIA meeting minutes. It also voted to have the 2019 OSDIA budget reflect the changes.
However, at the board’s August meeting, an alternate proposal was presented by a member.
It suggests allowing people to park for free, with time limits, in municipal lots but charging for on-street parking in certain areas.
“It would involve making prime parking paid and then free in other places to encourage people to park in the lots more, which are being under-used right now, and opening up spots on the main street for those who really need to park in front of where they want to go,” OSDIA board vice-chair Jacquie Furtner said in an interview.
Furtner will be presenting the three options – complimentary parking throughout the downtown, the alternate prime parking proposal and maintaining the status quo – at Thursday’s public meeting.
“We’re just trying to look at it from different angles, put out a few approaches that we came up with and then put it out to the public to see if maybe they have better ideas or other ideas or a combination of these ideas. We just really want to hear what everyone has to say,” she said.
Parsons said OSDIA co-ordinator Deb Blackshaw is retiring this year, so it’s a good time to consider the proposals.
A part-time position would be lost, he said, if the city takes over promotion/oversight of the OSDIA website.
O’Leary, a council representative on the OSDIA board, brought the complimentary parking idea to the OSDIA’s annual general meeting in March.
Ritchie said the $180,000 from the OSDIA levy would be enough to allow the city to offer complimentary on-street and lot parking. He noted the parking change would result in less enforcement-related costs, although there would still be some.
Parsons has said the city’s paid parking system has been a main issue for downtown merchants “for a very long time” and remains confusing and unnecessarily complex.
Last year, downtown business owners and landlords as well as city residents who were surveyed as part of a city-led downtown revitalization study identified “parking issues and tickets” as the top weakness of the core.
Currently, parking is free for up to two hours on 2nd Avenue East between 8th and 10th streets as well as on the two blocks funded by the OSDIA.
There are metered on-street spots on 2nd Avenue East between 6th and 7th streets as well as on parts of 3rd Avenue East, 8th and 9th streets east and 1st avenues east and west. On-street parking costs $1 an hour.
Several municipal lots are located downtown for long-term parking, which costs $5 a day. Monthly parking passes are also available.
Parking enforcement is in effect from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and conducted on behalf of the city by Commissionaires Great Lakes.
Owen Sound’s parking system is entirely funded by parking meter revenue, lot passes, parking tickets, fines and the OSDIA’s contribution. Major expenses relate to enforcement and street and lot maintenance.