More meters, higher fees: Downtown Marquette parking changes not well received

“I feel like I either have Stockholm Syndrome or I’m in an abusive financial relationship with the DDA and the city of Marquette.” — Rebecca Lloyd Owner Mi Acupuncture in the Masonic Square

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Downtown Development Authority is installing new parking meters this week as part of phase I implementation of a parking management plan, which has also included increased fees and other changes.

The plan, based on a 2013 study, aims to replace old parking meters with “smart meters,” install more meters and pay stations, improve turnover, offer more convenient payment options and increase revenue to pay for parking, sidewalks and walkability, according to the DDA.

Executive Director Mona Lang said the downtown parking system runs more than a $100,000 deficit every year, not including a $150,000 annual bond payment for a $1.2 million project that restored the Bluff Street parking structure, to be paid off through 2026.

Parking and maintenance is the DDA’s biggest expenditure at over 30 percent of the budget, with capital outlay nearly 20 percent and debt service nearly 15 percent. Tax increment financing makes up the majority of the DDA’s revenue, while parking revenue makes up less than a quarter.

“The idea with tax increment financing is to reinvest in public infrastructure to support development downtown. If we’re putting $250,000 a year back into the parking system over and above the revenue that we’re bringing in right now, that doesn’t leave a lot of money left to reinvest in new facilities, in parking structures, in maintaining sidewalks and rebuilding sidewalks, so it’s really maintenance,” Lang said.

Ryan Marlang, left, and Paul Urquidez of IPS Group install new parking meters in the Marquette Commons parking lot off Third and West Washington streets Tuesday morning. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

The changes are getting mixed reviews downtown.

Rebecca Lloyd, owner of Mi Acupuncture in the Masonic Square, said the DDA treats downtown customers and business owners like a personal piggy bank.

“The facts are clear. The citizens of the city don’t know what’s going on. It’s just (going to) happen if nobody speaks up. It’s not clarified, it needs to be clarified and it needs to be justified why they’re spending money on these machines,” Lloyd said. “It just looks really expensive and I don’t understand why it’s focused on the downtown businesses only.”

She said for small business owners and low-wage employees like cashiers and restaurant servers, $300 per year for a parking permit is too much, and the fees will only drive customers away from the downtown area. Lloyd wondered why city employees aren’t paying $300 per year for parking.

“If they charged fairly, I don’t have a problem paying $300 a year for parking if that’s what the city needs, but don’t just charge me and charge my customers and make it inconvenient for my customer base to get here,” she said.

Lloyd said the payment centers are inconvenient, and “the people who think it’s fantastic aren’t the people paying the fines and these fees — and parking tickets should not be considered a revenue.”

“I feel like I either have Stockholm Syndrome or I’m in an abusive financial relationship with the DDA and the city of Marquette,” Lloyd said.

Lang said the total cost of the new meters is about $316,000, which is expected to be paid for in a year and a half. Projected revenue for the current 153 meters is about $57,000, while projected annual revenue for the 288 new meters is $243,000 per year, and for pay stations, $107,000.

That data is based on 75 percent occupancy 250 days per year, she said.

Fees are set annually by the Marquette City Commission, and costs cover snow removal, electricity, elevator and towers maintenance, sidewalk clearing, trash removal, sweeping, repairs, striping and signage, Lang said.

All money from the parking meters and parking rental permits is put toward maintenance and improvements of the downtown district, Lang said, whereas all moneys from violations go to the city general fund.

“The system and effectiveness will continue to be monitored and evaluated and if necessary, modifications will be made,” Lang said.

Lang said there are 2,300 employees downtown and just 400 purchase parking permits.

“So there’s a discrepancy,” she said.

Lang defended the $300 cost.

“Number one, that is less than a dollar a day for parking, so it’s definitely less than a can of pop or a cup of coffee. Secondly, they do not have to park in areas where there’s charges for parking. There are areas on the exterior where they can park for free, they just have to walk, so it’s about paying for convenience.”

Mary Connor, long-time previous owner of the Marquette Yoga Center, agreed that employees are taking up prime parking spots, though she objects to the recent changes.

“I understand that a lot of people in town abuse the privilege and that they should not be using prime parking for that, and then they just move their car around,” Connor said. “I think they should either pay for a spot or park further away and walk to their business.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.