Downtown parking drives debate
Matt Winjum sees Grand Forks' downtown parking the same way he sees paying taxes for schools--it's a community issue, he said. Winjum, co-owner of two Rhombus Guys restaurant/pubs in Grand Forks, is charged a fee by the city each year to help pay...
Matt Winjum sees Grand Forks' downtown parking the same way he sees paying taxes for schools-it's a community issue, he said.
Winjum, co-owner of two Rhombus Guys restaurant/pubs in Grand Forks, is charged a fee by the city each year to help pay for parking upkeep, just as every other downtown business. The money helps close the gap in the city's parking budget, which funds maintenance on downtown parking lots and ramps and also builds reserves for future construction.
But Winjum, incoming president of the Downtown Development Association, wonders why it's just businesses on the hook, when everyone seems to use the parking.
"People pay for things that they don't necessarily use," he said, adding that he pays school district taxes despite not having any young children. "They pay for it because it betters the community."
Winjum's comments are at the crux of a discussion percolating on the city's downtown parking. And with the annual parking bills recently arriving, many are happy to talk about alternatives.
Filling the gap
Deputy City Planner Ryan Brooks said the city's parking fees are sent out to downtown businesses each year-or, for downtown residential properties, to property owners. Those fees make up the gap between parking revenue and parking expenses at the end of every year, making the city's parking budget a zero-sum affair.
Parking expenses come from the maintenance performed on city parking ramps and lots in the downtown area, as well as an annual $50,000 set aside to plan for big parking projects in the future. Revenue comes from the permits paid to fill spaces in downtown garages, parking fines and other sources.
But once city staff figures out how big the gap between revenue and expenses will be, they still have to figure out how much to charge each business. That's done using a more than 20-point city code that examines how much parking-and what kind of parking-each business already provides.
Those fees total about $85,000 this year, with most bills ranging from just more than $100 to more than $4,000.
Late last year, there was a push to shift parking fees from business owners to exclusively property owners. Though those are one and the same for plenty of downtown businesses-like Winjum's-it's not the case with all of them. An outcry, most notably from downtown property owners, stopped the proposal short, and the city hasn't shifted its stance since, declining to do so when the issue resurfaced this summer. City Administrator Todd Feland said absorbing parking costs into the city budget would have been tough with North Dakota's slowdown and last year's declining outlook for state aid from Bismarck.
Jonathan Holth, co-owner of the Toasted Frog, said plenty of downtown businesses have their gripes about paying the parking fee. He said focusing on efficiency-for example, finding better ways to share space in the parking ramp-might help drive down the costs passed on to downtown businesses.
"Nobody uses a parking spot 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Understanding that we've got a downtown where we've got businesses that have different operating hours-and residents that leave the downtown and come back in the evenings-we could find a way to optimize those spots," he said.
Feland said parking issues could come up for discussion as soon as spring, when the city begins to plan its 2018 budget, when potential changes to policy could be weighed.
"We just had that downtown report that came out," he said of a city committee's recent report envisioning the downtown's future. "And part of our redevelopment strategy, you always see parking as one of the top things you look at."