MARQUETTE -The Marquette Downtown Development Authority is hoping to get some outside help evaluating the downtown parking situation.
The DDA is seeking proposals to evaluate parking needs and craft a long-term strategy for the downtown and Third Street areas.
"The goal is to provide not just a parking management system, but a transportation management system," said DDA Executive Director Mona Lang.
She added parking is vital to local businesses and economic development, but uses a great deal of resources. Not only does the DDA have to expend cash reserves to build and maintain parking lots, but the organization is then unable to locate a money-making enterprise on the site.
Lang estimates 30 percent of all maintenance work done by DDA employees involves cleaning and maintaining parking lots and the surrounding areas.
In the DDA's tentative 2013 budget, the operating expenses for parking are slated to be $201,951. That amount is more than it's been in any of the previous five years, according to a fact sheet provided by the DDA that goes back to 2008. The DDA's only parking revenues come from meter and rental permit fees, but the number of rental permits purchased this year is also lower than it has been over the five-year period.
In recent years, the DDA's parking fund has run at an annual deficit of $12,000 to $102,000. Lang said the fund has been in the red as far back as she can recall.
"Right now, this parking system downtown is running a deficit," Lang said. "People think parking is free and it's not. It's very, very expensive and we need to find a way to make it self sustaining."
Hoping to have an outside firm conduct a parking study, the DDA issued a request for proposals on March 8 and responses must be submitted by Tuesday. Lang said she has met with two consultants and has had a phone conversation with a third, and she estimates there will be about five submissions.
Lang said she believes the parking problem is a revenue issue. In many cities, she said people must pay to park anywhere in the downtown area.
"I think there's revenue to be realized," she said. "I don't know where we would cut anything. We are at bare bones."
And while a study may help the DDA create a parking system that runs at a profit, Lang said she hopes it will address any and all parking-related issues.
"This is a little bit of everything. We have developments that are in the pipeline and we have more and more people looking at the DDA to provide and manage parking. We need to look and make sure we are using what we have effectively," she said. "We have, in my opinion, way too much private parking that sits vacant a lot of the time. That parking could have multiple uses to it so we're not tearing down houses to build parking lots."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.