The sign outside the Armory Parking Garage on 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis proudly advertises spaces for $5 on Fridays. Just around the corner, another garage offered an early-bird special of $7.25 for drivers who park before 9 a.m.

Downtown workers who drive already know the hole that parking fees can put in their wallets. Sports fans and concertgoers who leave their cars in a surface lot or ramp for only a few hours often pay more to park than it costs for a hot dog and soda at Target Field.

A new app called SpotHero ( that recently debuted in Minneapolis could help drivers trim those costs.

The app for iPhones and Android devices, plus its website, allows motorists to search for hourly, daily or monthly parking in a ramp or lot near their destination and compare prices. Then they can book and prepay online with big savings, said Elan Mosbacher, director of marketing.

"Parking is a pain, and they don't like it," he said. "SpotHero's mission is to make life easier for drivers and save them money on parking."

SpotHero is still in the testing phase here, so The Drive put it to the test by looking for parking near Target Center for Wednesday's Timberwolves game against the Dallas Mavericks. The app returned two options, one for $8 with a 7-minute walk at the LaSalle Plaza Garage on 9th Street and another for $5 but more than a mile away at the garage on Park Avenue under the light-rail stop across from the old Metrodome.

The Drive also tried to arrange parking for Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. performance of "I Love Lucy Live on Stage" at the historic State Theatre. The website directed me back across downtown to the light-rail garage on Park Avenue. The fee: $5.

Both options were cheaper than parking in Ramps A, B or C, which are off Interstates 394 and 94 and near Target Center and the Hennepin Avenue theater. The event rate for those ramps ranged from $9 to $13, according to the website,

Meters not monitored

The app does not have information for parking meters.

In a search for monthly parking near the Hennepin County Government Center, SpotHero suggested the Thrivent Smith Lot at 501 S. 7th Street, a couple blocks down the street for $130 per month. A cheaper option was the Park Avenue garage for $86.

In comparison, monthly parking runs $140 in Ramps A and B and $125 in Ramp C. The cost to park at the Hennepin County Government Center was $160.

The Drive found that the options SpotHero returned for both daily and monthly parking were equal to or slightly less than at other places in the city, but not enough of a savings to make hoofing it several extra blocks worth it.

The Drive also found it hard to tell how favorable SpotHero's rates were because 16 ramps run by the City of Minneapolis are not in its database.

SpotHero has been a boon for drivers in cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., where SpotHero compares prices at hundreds of lots and ramps. That could be true here, too, eventually.

More venues and parking options and rates will be added in the coming months, said Mosbacher. St. Paul is on the horizon.

"We're still testing it out and making sure it works," he said.