The city is looking at raising parking-meter rates along North Fourth Avenue, downtown and Main Gate Square.
It also could add new limits on how long visitors can park in a metered space.
The potential changes have some merchants concerned.
City officials say they want to address parking turnover as a way to boost visitors to the business areas.
“You want to have that turnover on the on-street parking to be able to get new people to come in,” said Michael Graham, spokesman for the Tucson Department of Transportation.
“If you limit parking to two hours, what happens is that person leaves, and it opens up a space for someone else to come in and patronize the building. Whereas, if you have somebody parking there all day for eight hours, you’re not getting any turnover,” Graham said.
Before members of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association think about possible parking changes, they want to discuss the unique parking issues in the area with the city.
“Until the city sits down with the stakeholders of Fourth Avenue and helps us work out a concrete plan to address longstanding parking and infrastructure challenges in the area, we are opposed to any changes of the current meter rates and times in the Fourth Avenue Business and Entertainment District,” wrote Fred Ronstadt, executive director of the merchants association, in a letter to the city council.
“All our funding comes through our entrepreneurship and the direct support of the thousands of Tucsonans who regard the Avenue as the soul of our community,” Ronstadt continued.
There’s no schedule yet for public meetings on the possible changes.
The potential changes come from a Park Tucson study that determined there is limited parking turnover in Tucson’s high entertainment areas.
Among the ideas being contemplated is to charge for parking after 5 p.m. and enforce time limits of two hours. In certain spots, paid parking could run as late as midnight.
The current hourly parking rate of a dollar could be raised by a quarter.
Graham emphasized that nothing has been decided, and it’s possible no changes will be made.
If changes do come, Graham said that between the city’s six parking garages, seven surface lots and more than 1,800 parking meters, the city would work to find spaces for employees. That could mean giving workers discounted parking rates.
“Even if employees were to park in garages downtown and take the streetcar, the streetcar doesn’t run when most of us get off of work, so that’s not a viable option,” said Jasmine Pierce, a member of the merchants association and the Historic Fourth Avenue Coalition.
Pierce noted that merchants could lose “90% of our off-street parking to developments and construction in the coming weeks and months.”
She started a Change.org petition that had collected more than 4,800 signatures early last week.
“We’re going to request that absolutely no changes be made to parking in our district until we have concrete parking solutions,” Pierce said.
“We’re a viable, self-sustaining district, but if people can’t come and visit us, that will no longer be the case.”
Demand-based parking makes sense in concept, but the three areas present different problems and needs, said City Councilman Steve Kozachik. He said finding suitable solutions will take time.
“We don’t change policy or ordinances through budget, we change them through a very public process that we’re going to go through.”
Downtown has parking garages with adjacent parking spaces, making it more convenient than finding parking along Fourth Avenue, he said. For Main Gate Square, Kozachik said, the Tyndall Garage is available and there’s surface parking in the area.
The Fourth Avenue merchants have been through significant challenges with the installation of the street car. Now they will have to go through upcoming construction developments, which are going to affect traffic flow and accessibility, Kozachik said.
Still, he says there is room to find agreement between the city and the merchants.
“Some of the merchants on Fourth Avenue are the ones that originally asked us to do meters and to implement some of these policies, because what they were finding is that their own employees would park in front of their business and stay there for their entire work shift,” Kozachik said.
Any proposal would go before the City Council.
“They do understand that there is a difference between our districts, so I have faith that they will make the right and responsible decision as far as this is concerned,” Pierce said of the final decision by the council.
“People all over Tucson come to visit all of us on Fourth Avenue, and this is a major thing for them as well,” Pierce said.