Downtown Tucson merchants boiling over 'construction mayhem'

2013-03-22T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T11:20:20Z Downtown Tucson merchants boiling over 'construction mayhem'Becky Pallack Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

This week marks one full year of streetcar construction in downtown Tucson - and merchants there are fuming.

At the top of their list is a march toward higher and higher parking rates when they've been begging for just the opposite in hopes of staving off even greater customer losses.

Already ParkWise, the city's parking enforcement agency, raised rates at the popular Pennington Street garage this year. Now there are plans to hike rates at parking meters, too.

"We have asked for parking relief over and over" during construction, Downtown Tucson Merchants Council Chairman Travis Reese told the ParkWise Commission this week.

The Merchants Council asked the ParkWise Commission Tuesday to hold off on increasing meter rates until the streetcar is up and running - or at least until construction is done.

On top of the parking problems, streetcar tracks are being torn out on West Congress Street and North Fifth Avenue, shutting down both streets again just months after they reopened from a long construction closure.

The first Congress Street closure was supposed to last 90 days and dragged on for 180 days, so "it hurt to see them put fences back up and close our intersection because we thought they were done," said Ari Shapiro, owner of Xoom Juice and Sparkroot coffee bar.

ParkWise director Donovan Durband said he was under the impression Congress Street was reopened and the work at Fifth would take a weekend, not weeks.

About 100 feet of track had to be removed to make room for a complex piece of curved track and switch track, said city spokesman Michael Graham.

All along Congress there are closures and lane restrictions. Some parking meters in front of shops and restaurants are out of commission, and some parking spaces have been removed altogether.

Customers who want to come downtown don't know what streets are open or closed, said downtown shop owner Amy Pike.

"It's just layers of frustration," she said, and the city hasn't done much to ease the "construction mayhem."

Besides streetcar construction, at least three major building projects and a number of building renovations are under way.

Construction has removed a lot of on-street parking just as demand is rising from new apartments and new businesses, Durband told the ParkWise Commission.

ParkWise plans to double downtown parking meter revenue over the next five years, plus add meters in the Fourth Avenue entertainment district where parking is now free. ParkWise also will consider adding weekends to meter enforcement times.

The agency needs to raise meter rates to help balance its budget. ParkWise is projecting a $535,000 operating loss this fiscal year.

It would be "ludicrous" for ParkWise to raise meter rates right now, said Pike, who owns A Perfect Pantry.

Instead, she said, they should be looking for ways to offer free parking one day of the week or other ways merchants could offer free parking to customers as a reward for braving the construction.

"I am all for this project … but the city has to look at what the merchants are going through," Pike said. "It's appalling that they aren't searching for a way to do something positive for the merchants and the customers."

ParkWise has discounted garage parking rates during construction and offers a free hour of parking at four garages, Durband said.

ParkWise commissioner and Downtown Tucson Partnership CEO Michael Keith said ParkWise should wait to raise rates until the streetcar is running.

The ParkWise Commission opened a public comment period, until April 4, for public input on pricing and timing of implementation.

The changes must be approved by the ParkWise Commission and by the City Council.

Reese, who owns 47 Scott restaurant and Scott & Co. bar, said he's glad ParkWise is including merchants in the decision-making this time and trying to see the bigger picture.

Kade Mislinski, who owns Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery and two other places, is planning an "Exile on Congress Street" music festival for April 20. The name partly references a Rolling Stones album and partly pokes fun at the construction situation.

He's sharing his 50 parking spaces with surrounding business owners and working hard to change the impression that it's hard to park downtown.

"I'm blessed with a parking lot, but I'm trying to use it to help everyone else out," he said. "I just want people to come downtown."

 

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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