Business owners along the popular Grand Avenue commercial strip in St. Paul have made their feelings about parking clear with the green signs displayed in many of their storefront windows: "Call Mayor Coleman and tell him no parking meters on Grand.''
Eliminating free parking, business owners and residents say, would create parking problems for employees and neighbors and would likely send customers elsewhere. A Grand Avenue Business Association survey found that 88 percent of businesses on the street are opposed.
Despite these objections, placing revenue-generating meters along the avenue — perhaps with some special provisions for residents and employees — is a sensible idea. Metered parking would bring the area in line with other popular urban commercial strips and raise needed funds for the city.
Grand is an established destination with numerous bars, restaurants and shops. Finding parking to patronize those businesses is a growing challenge. Meters would drive more turnover, allowing more customers access to spots for quick trips. And meters would likely encourage more walking, biking and transit use to get into and out of the area.
The strong opposition comes in response to a proposal in Mayor Chris Coleman's 2016 budget. He recommends a pilot program that would install 525 meters on Grand next spring and expand the number of meters downtown.
With a possible $10 million 2016 deficit on the horizon, the mayor wants to bring in an additional $1.25 million over the next two years from meters. After $730,000 in initial costs, Grand Avenue meters are projected to generate about $800,000 in annual revenue for the city. This year, the city expects to collect about $2.4 million from about 2,000 meters downtown.
Aside from a few meters along University and Raymond avenues, the parking expansion would be the first outside of downtown. Looking to well-trafficked, popular commercial zones for parking revenue is not an unusual municipal strategy.
Minneapolis has about 7,500 metered spaces throughout the city, with more than half in or near downtown. The remaining meters are located in areas including Uptown, Dinkytown, the North Loop, Stadium Village and near the lakes. The city receives about $12 million per year in revenue from the meters, and there are no signs that businesses are hurting as a result.
In St. Paul, eight studies on potential Grand Avenue meters have been completed since 1983, but the city has not taken action until now. If approved, meters would be installed in May and the impact would be analyzed next fall. A City Council vote is expected Oct. 21.
Parking meters are, in effect, a user tax that can help cover the added costs of wear and tear on city streets as well as help fund the greater public safety needs in busy commercial areas.
Just as Uptown draws people from around the metro area, Grand Avenue has become a popular destination for visitors to St. Paul. With parking meters in place, those visitors will help pay some of the city's bills.