GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 23, 2012

Pilot program targets Main Street meters

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Are the parking meters on Main Street good for business, or do they detract from it?

Robert Heidt, the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive officer, says that meters keep traffic moving and turnover in the parking spaces in front of Main Street shops, and that means potentially more people shopping inside.

“(Business owners) want to have that constant turnover because that impacts cash register sales, which is what drives the business,” Heidt said.

But that could change, at least temporarily, and starting in January.

The City Council holds a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m in the City Hall auditorium on whether to allow free parking on Main Street for a three month trial period from January 1, 2013, to March 31, 2013. If the council votes to make that change, Main street would have free, two-hour parking from Spring Street to Washington street.

City Councilor Bruce Tobey proposed the three-month trial, changing his initial and often filed request to eliminate the parking meters on Main Street permanently. He filed that earlier this year. He said the trial will see if removing the parking meters works, and proved a boost to local businesses in the off-season.

“When businesses seem to need the most help is with the slow months, and it benefits people who live here as opposed to tourists who visit here,” Tobey said.

His proposal, he added, would bring much needed traffic back to Main Street. While the additional traffic will help, Heidt said he’s concerned the spaces won’t be as enforced as metered parking spaces. Without enforcement, he said, the free parking will lock up the street in front of the shops.

The chamber, he said, used to do similar kinds of free parking events during the holidays. From what he’s heard, Heidt said, they didn’t go over that well. In a period of slower sales, any drop in turnover could cause problems for businesses.

“The intentions are well thought out,” Heidt said, “but it isn’t practical.”

Gloucester doesn’t have enough parking to make something like this viable, he said. If more parking were available, he added, residents and visitors would be less likely to take advantage of free parking on Main Street.

“The key is enforcement,” Tobey said, “there’s no doubt about that.”

Tobey said that, with the equipment that the city parking attendants have now, tracking who is parking where should be simple. He added that the city’s “anti-shuffling” ordinance will remain in effect as well.

“The idea is that you don’t allow parking in Space 1 for two hours, then Space 2 for two hours and then space 3 for another two hours if you work a six hour shift on main street and don’t want to pay,” Tobey said.

Police Chief Leonard Campanello said he wasn’t going to comment on how the department would enforce the measure before speaking about it at the hearing tonight.

While taking the meters down may mean a drop in parking meter revenue, Tobey said it’s worth it for a more active downtown. The city, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Towne, Main Street meters bring in about $2,000 each week and $104,000 each year.

“We’ve become addicted to revenue, that’s not the point. the point is rationing the parking,” Tobey said.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.