St. Paul city officials are thinking about expanding parking meters beyond downtown to popular business areas like Grand Avenue, W. 7th Street and Ford Parkway.

But some businesses already are saying no to the experiment, arguing that metered parking isn’t needed, will hurt their businesses and is merely a “money grab” by the city to address a problem that doesn’t exist.

“Not having meters is what keeps the small-town feel of Grand Avenue,” said Jon Perrone, executive director for the Grand Avenue Business Association.

Perrone said his group surveyed its 150 members about the proposal a week after Mayor Chris Coleman announced it during his 2016 budget presentation last month. Eighty-eight percent responded, and 87 percent of those said they’re opposed to meters, Perrone said.

The idea of installing meters in neighborhood commercial areas comes on the heels of Coleman’s plan to end free parking after 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday at downtown meters, beginning in January. Coleman announced the new policy during his budget presentation, saying it would raise $1.6 million each year and help create more turnover on downtown streets and help steer more cars to nearby ramps and lots.

“Many of St. Paul’s neighborhood commercial districts would benefit from the same market-based approach to parking,” according to the mayor’s posted plan. “On-street parking spaces that are intended to serve the short-term needs of customers — and the vitality of the area — are being used by those who park there all day.”

The plan would be to select one or more neighborhood commercial street segments for a pilot meter program in 2016 and then expand it within a year.

About a dozen areas, including Arcade Street, Cesar Chavez Street and University Avenue, could be considered and evaluated.

David Enyeart, assistant manager at Common Good Books just off Grand at 38 S. Snelling Avenue, said he hasn’t heard much about the meter pilot program. The store’s customers can find parking in a couple of nearby lots and at 15-minute parking spots in front of the store, Enyeart said.

“It’s worked fine,” he said. “But meters won’t bother me. I probably would lose a few people who aren’t interested in paying.” Others would just avoid the meters by parking off Grand, he said.

Perrone said the idea of adding meters on Grand has been debated over the years and was most recently rejected a few years ago, he said.

Grand Avenue already has timed parking with one- and two-hour posted parking, Perrone said. If the city is adding meters to spur turnover, “we already have it.”

Adding meters would just make parking more inconvenient, he said. “If someone is running in to grab a sandwich from Grand Ole Creamery and they’re going to be in there 10 minutes, they’re not going to find the podium to go pay for a parking meter, and then run in,” Perrone said. “They’re going to do one of two things — not pay it and get ticketed and get upset, or they’re just not going to come.”

Less to spend elsewhere?

Businesses and residential neighbors also are concerned that some people will avoid the meters and park in the neighborhood.

If there’s a parking issue that needs to be worked out, then Perrone said his members want a solution that isn’t just a “money grab.”

Nick Closmore, general manager at Wild Onion, a bar and restaurant at 788 Grand Av., said meters would take money his customers otherwise could spend in his restaurant and nearby shops.

“People don’t have an endless supply of money,” he said.

Parking is a premium on the avenue, Closmore said. But parking meters won’t help that because people aren’t camping their cars on Grand, he said.

Instead, meters would constrain people to “hurry up” rather than to wander along the avenue, visiting restaurants and shops, Closmore said.

“Free parking is unique to Grand Avenue,” he said. “It’s not Minneapolis. And, like it or not, St. Paul and Minneapolis … have different styles.”