Free 2-hour parking proposed for downtown Greensboro

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Fifty-eight businesses and property owners are asking Greensboro's city council to consi

der implementing a "two-hour free" parking rule throughout downtown.

They say this comes after years of customers expressing frustration with parking, parking machines and parking enforcement.

Simonne McClinton, owner of M'Coul's Public House downtown, said she's been fighting for improved parking rules for four years downtown. "Customers come in and say, 'Hey, the machine’s not working. Will I get a ticket?' And the answer is, 'Yeah. You will.' So what do you think they do? They leave."

M'Coul's is right next to a city-owned lot at Elm and McGee Streets. Last week, the city started a pilot program in that specific lot making the first two hours of parking free to see how it goes.

McClinton said that's a great start, but they want to see the rule expanded throughout downtown for good.

She and other business owners claim parking issues hurt business, especially at lunch time.

Several people spoke on behalf of the proposal at the council meeting Tuesday, including Downtown Greensboro, Inc. President Zack Matheny.

"We're asking for the first two hours someone parks downtown to be free. We hear complaints about things like inconsistencies with one street being metered, one not being metered... So making it more consistent. Just making it easy," Matheny explained.

Warren Lamont runs a Sabrett hot dog stand in Center City Park. He feeds the meter all day, moves his car when he has to, and says he frequently gets $15 tickets if he forgets to add coins even a few minutes late.

He thinks more free parking would help himself and potential customers. "Every little dollar helps, you know, especially when you’re trying to start out," he said.

Council members asked staff to gather information about exactly how much money the city makes off of parking meters, lots, decks and tickets every year. They said at Tuesday's meeting they believe the city makes about a million dollars a year from parking tickets.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she may be on board to consider the free two-hour parking for street and lot spots, but probably not for parking decks. She said the revenue in those decks goes toward maintenance and building new decks, and she said they need that money.

She also said two hours free doesn't mean folks won't get ticketed. "This is not the panacea," she said. "Two-hour free parking really doesn't change anything except the two bucks you put in the meter. If you stay longer than two hours, you're still going to get the $15 ticket."

McClinton says she doesn't want downtown Greensboro to be known as an area that's hard to park in. "We really need the government to work for us, not against us. And at this point, they’re really working against small businesses."

DGI used Greenville, South Carolina, as an example of a city we usually "put on a pedestal." It has free parking, and when Greenville's mayor visited Greensboro a few weeks ago this was one suggestion he made, Matheny said.

Some city employees say they are concerned free parking would mean monthly costs at parking decks will increase. They said it's currently $50 a month but worry it would go up to $75, like Greenville, to make up lost revenue.

No decision was made.

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