Downtown plan includes paid parking possibility

Nick Berryman | Lariat Photographer People may have to start paying for downtown parking if the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce carries out its economic revitalization plan to cut back on congested parking.

By Ade Adesanya

Downtown parking will be restructured in accordance with the downtown economic revitalization plan. That plan includes the possibility of paid parking.

“The premise behind metered parking is that on-street parking is regulated in the downtown area,” Chris McGowan, the urban development director for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said. “Currently people are parking for extended periods on the street and that causes problem for retailers.”

Parking shortages in the downtown area is currently an issue in Waco, McGowan said. Business owners have complained about employees and visitors disrupting business activity by parking for extended periods of time in short-term parking areas.

“Parking is not a serious problem at the moment, however, it is something to consider,” McGowan said. “Especially when the convention center has many visitors and parking flows to the street.”

Retailers, residents and restaurant owners in the Waco downtown area share the view that parking should be modified as part of the economic revitalization plan, organizing and regulating paid parking.

“There are many people who agree this is needed and should have been done five years ago,” Stuart Illing, the manager of Gratziano’s Pasta and Pizza Grill said. “I do not think paid parking will hurt our business, but I think I will get some negative feedback because of lack of parking during peak hours.”

People who do not want to pay for parking can park in designated public parking areas around downtown or walk on the pedestrian-friendly walk paths to be included in the revitalization plan.

“People park in loading areas for the tenants [of Spice Village]; this delays loading and causes problems,” Jennifer Wilson, owner of the collection of shops in downtown Waco called Spice Village, said.

Currently, there are approximately 14,000 parking slots in the downtown area that serve visitors, employees and shoppers.

“During peak hours on most week days, between 40 and 60 percent of the slots in the Waco downtown are occupied, so this is looking into the future when there will be greater traffic,” McGowan said.

Future plans for parking will mimic paid parking in metropolitan areas and cities around the country, McGowan said.

“We have not engaged consultants about a future parking plan; transportation planners will look at regulating parking and generating revenue the same way we [Waco Chamber] would,” McGowan said.

Though paid parking incites mixed feelings, business managers and owners said people who plan to spend time shopping and dining will not worry about a parking fee.

“Parking meters create a mixed benefit, depends on how you see it, the price of parking will determine the effect­­­ — after all, people drive from Waco to downtown Dallas to shop and do things, yet, they pay for parking when they are there,” Wilson said.

Metered parking would mean businesses would not have to pay out of pocket to tow illegally parked vehicles.

But customers aren’t the only people committing parking faux pas, employees from the restaurants and other businesses take up parking meant for customers.

“People can spend more time shopping and pay for parking, at the same time employees won’t be abusing parking designed for customers because they have to pay,” Wilson said.

The chamber’s goal is to use the available parking to service visitors and shoppers when they need it.

“Regulating parking or metered parking is not because of lack of parking, it is more about allocating the parking slots available for use when they are needed effectively,” McGowan said.

Amid concerns that paid parking will discourage visits to the downtown, chamber and business owners agree that customers who pay to park do so because they want to spend a lot of time exploring the area. Both parties also agree that it works well for both the city and businesses. The city will earn revenue from parking and businesses will enjoy higher sales because of the convenience customers enjoy.

“We want people to come and spend money here. The revenue they generate is what we need and paid parking should not keep them from spending,” Wilson said.