The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Paid-parking proposal for downtown meets resistance


By Margie Plunkett


A recent study of parking in downtown Delray Beach would remove a feature that some merchants believe keeps the shopping area bustling — free parking.


The study by Kimley-Horn Associates Inc., which was presented at community meetings in July, recommends metering Atlantic Avenue and other downtown areas that are now free
in an effort to ease traffic congestion that has resulted from the town’s
successful growth. Part of a larger parking-management plan, fees for parking
would be set at various levels to steer motorists who want to park longer term
away from the closest downtown on-street parking.


Some merchants think taking away free parking downtown will drive shoppers out of town. “All we’re doing is shifting them to the malls,” said Carole Lynn of
Forms Gallery on Atlantic Avenue, who attended one of the community meeting.


Connie Wichman, who has worked at Mercer Wenzel Department Store on Atlantic Avenue for 39 years, agreed. “I think
they’ll be making a big mistake. It will not be the friendly image we’re trying
to project. It will alienate people.”


The study says lack of adequate and available parking can result in loss of economic activity. In addition to evaluating the city’s parking supply and
operations downtown, the study also was intended, it said, “to identify
strategies to efficiently manage and to offset the city/CRA’s expenditures for
parking.”


The core of downtown has 547 designated on-street parking spaces, according to the study’s count. Parking is free and is limited to a maximum two hours from 8
a.m. to 8 p.m., except for valet parking spaces. There are also some
five-minute parking spaces. Parking is enforced with tickets written for
violators, according to the study, which says on-street parking is used heavily
by customers, business owners and employees.


The study recommends that the first 20 minutes of parking should be free, and following that the fee should be $1.25 an hour for parking in the downtown
core, extending the same rates that are now charged on Atlantic Avenue west of
the Intracoastal Waterway. Off-street parking would cost $1 per hour with a
maximum of $5 for the day.


The area east of the Intracoastal has had on-street paid parking since 2002, a measure that helped redirect
beachgoers to parking along
A1A and allow shoppers to use the Atlantic Avenue parking, according to the
study.


“I think it (paid downtown parking) is a horrible ideal,” said Lynn. “We’ve talked to many of our customers, they like the ambiance of a little town, that this
town gives them the opportunity to relax and shop -— and not have to feed a
meter.”


Residents don’t mind paying to park for dining — looking at it as part of the cost of entertainment, but the attitude is different among shoppers, Wichman said. “I
do not want to pay — to put money in a parking meter — to buy a pair of
pantyhose at Mercer Wenzel. To pay money to shop is not right.”


Longer-term parking by employees and visitors who want to spend more time downtown should be in off-street facilities. If employees and business owners take up the
close, on-street spaces, patrons could be discouraged from visiting, the study
says.


Wichman, however, says while one or two employees may use Atlantic for parking, employees overall don’t take up the on-site parking spaces. “Everyone knows
where to park,” she said, adding that the parking garages are not in convenient
places.


The cost to put in pay stations for on-street parking and surface lots downtown would be about $1.4 million, the study says.

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