St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman plans to call a community meeting in the next few days to hear personally the views of residents and businesses on his unpopular proposal to install 525 parking meters along Grand Avenue.
Coleman was on his way home Monday after a weeklong trip to St. Paul’s sister cities in China and Japan, and unable to comment. But Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann said Coleman is eager to hear from neighbors and meet with the Grand Avenue Business Association (GABA), which has spearheaded widespread local opposition to the plan.
Beckmann said the mayor’s office hopes to announce a time and place for the meeting soon.
“Nobody knows Grand Avenue like Chris Coleman,” she said. “He’s been knee-deep in this issue for years.”
Jon Perrone, GABA’s executive director, said his organization welcomed any chance to be heard but was skeptical that the meeting would result in significant changes, let alone elimination of the proposal.
The plan is opposed by many businesses and residents who say that meters will discourage shoppers and push more cars into the surrounding neighborhoods.
“If it’s going to be the same thing [from Coleman] — ‘We’re doing this for you’ — I don’t know if it will be worth it,” Perrone said.
Coleman announced the parking meter plan in his budget address in August. Along with an extension of downtown parking meter hours, it would raise $1.6 million for the 2016 budget; after next year, Grand Avenue meters alone would draw an estimated $800,000 for the city’s general fund.
The mayor had said that several streets outside downtown would be considered for the pilot program, with the final choice to be made after receiving community input. That never happened, as officials simply decided that Grand, the city’s most popular shopping district, was ripe for meters.
“It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” Beckmann said. “Minneapolis has 7,500 metered spaces [St. Paul has fewer than half that number]. You do not see businesses going out of business because of parking meters.”
Beckmann spoke at a rally held Sunday by GABA to protest the meter plan. Media reports put the crowd at 150, but Perrone said as many as 300 businesspeople and residents attended, many booing Beckmann as she spoke.
“It was a lively crowd,” Beckmann said. “Those are my neighbors. One brought me an apple pie last night. But it was important for me to hear from folks.”
Beckmann acknowledged to the crowd that officials could have done a better job of talking with the community before Grand was announced as the site for the meters.
She said Monday that it was “hard to speculate” whether the plan could be fixed in such a way to please neighbors.
“There’s still time to talk this out … and get input, but we think something needs to change in parking around Grand. And I think the mayor is open to hearing from the community,” she said.
“It’s hard to know what’s believable,” Perrone said. “I think their statement that they screwed up was the best. I think they thought this was something that nobody would care about.”