City Council Combined Special Meeting/Work Session

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Meeting Date: 09/22/2020  
Co-Submitter: Gail Brockman From: David McIntire, Community Investment Director

Discussion: Possible strategies and timelines for the re-implementation of the pay-to-park and permit programs for the ParkFlag District including the Downtown and Southside areas.
Listen to strategies and options, and discuss the most favorable methodology and timeline for the re-implementation of the pay-to-park and permit portions of the ParkFlag program.
The pay-to-park and permit portions of the ParkFlag program were suspended by emergency proclamation on March 16, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. ParkFlag staffing was reduced by half, and remaining staff has worked to maintain carry-out zones for businesses,  enforce Title 9 of the Parking Code (ie ADA parking, parking in bike lanes, unsafe parking, etc), sanitize high-touch public spaces in the Downtown, plant flowers, and prepare sanitizer wipes for outdoor tables.

The City has received numerous requests to bring back the pay-to-park and permit program in the ParkFlag District. After discussion with the Downtown Business Alliance (DBA), their Master Plan consultant Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA), and other stakeholders, staff is bringing this information and these options forward for Council discussion.

The number of options and possibilities for re-implementation involve significant detail. Thus the intention is to address the discussion in three focus areas. 
  1. ParkFlag since March 16, 2020 - what has been occurring in the past months
  2. ParkFlag initial return - what is the most favorable way to re-implement the program in the short term
  3. ParkFlag ongoing - what is the most favorable way to maintain the program ongoing
ParkFlag Parking Management Program priorities are: 1) the management of parking in both the Southside and in the Downtown to enhance the resident experience and to further the prosperity and activation of the Downtown commercial area and, 2) the generation of revenues for use in developing more parking inventory and to pay for necessary enforcement.

February 2020 changes to ParkFlag program:

In February 2020, Council approved several changes in the ParkFlag program. These changes were not fully implemented because affected programs were suspended in March.

The Council directed the following reduced paid parking hours, designed to be easier to remember:
Sunday - Thurs: 9 AM - 5 PM
Friday and Saturday: 9 AM - 8 PM

Council also approved reducing the cost of employee permits from $45/month to $10/month. 

Plans are moving forward for two new surface lots providing parking inventory before the end of the year.

ParkFlag since March 16:

ParkFlag has been operating with half staff, but has been helping the community by::
  • Responding to customer concerns about poor parking behavior in the ParkFlag District;
  • Providing customer service and receiving comments and information;
  • Enforcing Title 9 of the code which addresses ADA parking, parking in bike lanes, unsafe parking, and other violations not related to the pay-to-park and permit programming;
  • Maintaining parking infrastructure such as painting red curbs, changing signs, and providing ongoing maintenance to the kiosks;
  • Attending court fas needed for citations;
  • Sanitizing high touch areas throughout the Downtown to assist in public safety;
  • Designating and maintaining "Carry-out Zones" on block faces as requested and appropriate to facilitate the increase in take-out service during the pandemic;
  • Planting flowers and helping maintain the infrastructure for the expanded use of the rights-of-way;
  • and doing occupancy counts for the ParkFlag District parking spaces.
Over the past few months visitors and locals have been returning to enjoy the downtown both for carry-out and for more conventional experiences; employees are once again taking many of the prime spaces for long periods of time; students have joined the community again; and there are fewer parking spaces available due to the successful implementation of carry-out zones and street closures on Aspen Avenue to allow for outdoor dining.

Parking inventory counts have shown occupancies in the 70-90% range. Optimal parking is often understood to have occupancy of 80% which allows for the public to have access to available spaces but with a high number of people in the space. In fact, a number of businesses have mentioned that it has gotten back to or worse than before the program was originally implemented.

Discussions with PUMA and the DBA have led staff to believe that re-implementation of the pay-to-park and permit parking earlier rather than later would be beneficial. PUMA reports that all other communities they are working with have re-implemented their pay-to-park programs already. While not everyone appreciates the parking program, it has been, and will continue to be, beneficial for the prosperity of the district. Further discussions with DBA and a brief presentation to the board in late June with a request for feedback showed some diversity of opinion on how and when to start the program back up, but to wait a bit longer than August. Changes to the course of the pandemic and the business cycle are quite concerning and hard to predict, but the return of visitors and students along with other changes are leading to the need for managed parking.

While not comprehensively surveyed, Southside residents who have been asked, or who have reached out proactively, have generally stated they would prefer parking management sooner rather than later.

Since the ParkFlag program was suspended in March, the program has been losing almost $100,000 a month in revenue.  This revenue is used to pay for ParkFlag operational expenses. Also, a portion of the monthly revenue is set-aside for inventory development (often referred to as the lock-box). The lock-box fund has $700,000 in reserves and would be close to, or above, $800,000 if not for the pandemic. While the program funding is not the main reason to re-implement, it is important to note that lack of revenue will make it difficult to not only build additional parking, but also to pay the debt service and other long-term costs that are the City's responsibility. More extended lack of revenue could also lead to further program reductions which will make it much more difficult to re-implement.

ParkFlag - The Initial Return

While some businesses have asked for ParkFlag to return as soon as possible, others feel it is important to wait until the pandemic is over or until a time in the Spring. Major concerns expressed have been that parking needs to be managed and that the current situation is detrimental to residents and businesses, but that the business environment remains fragile and some businesses feel a concern that local residents may be less likely to come Downtown if the pay-to-park portion of ParkFlag returns.

Some options include:
  1. Implement the current program in October including the February 2020 changes;
  2. Implement the current program at a later date (after the holidays, in the Spring, etc). March 1 at latest without risking structural financial concerns;
  3. Implement the program in October with a free time provided at the beginning of a visit;
    1. 30 minutes
    2. 1 hour
  4. Implement the program at a later date with a free time period. January 1 at latest without risking structural financial concerns.
There are benefits and concerns with each version:

1. Implementing the current program in October is simple and effective. It allows parking to be effectively managed and follows the Administrative Guidelines and previous Council policy. It may have an impact on local participation at businesses in a time when the Summer crowds are less significant and the expanded use of the right-of-way is being removed.

2. Implementing the current program at a later date is also simple. It uses the current model but waits until a future date to avoid any possible unintended impacts on business. One consideration is that without revenue the ParkFlag program will not be able to continue sustaining its infrastructure and make its necessary debt payments indefinitely. It is believed funds can sustain the program until March 1 if we begin collecting full revenue at that point.

3. Implementing the program with the free time period in October works to begin effectively managing the parking inventory and correcting parking behaviors while continuing to welcome locals downtown with a free parking time period. People will still need to use the kiosks, but a free portion of time will be provided with additional time requiring payment. This will begin to generate revenue again, but will not likely be enough to sustain the program long term.

4. Implementing the program with a free time period at a later date also seeks to manage the inventory, but allows for another period of time with ParkFlag suspended. This could be through the holiday shopping season or even into the Spring. This would potentially support shopping as Fall and the holidays approach and avoid the perception that ParkFlag re-implementation results in declining sales which may have naturally occurred in the Fall regardless. According to current recession plans the program would need to be implemented by January 1, 2021 to avoid risking structural financial concerns.

ParkFlag Ongoing

1) Should the Council choose to implement in October as the program is the program is anticipated to be self-sustaining.

2) Should the Council choose to implement at a later date the program should be self-sustaining if that re-implementation occurs in the Spring prior to fund balances becoming too low. There is risk of structural financial concerns if the program has not been re-implemented before March 1.

3) Should the Council choose to implement in October with a free time period, the funds will provide additional time before the program has structural issues, but likely additional changes would be required at some point to be self-sustaining:
  • The program could revert back to the current structure (paying from the beginning) on a specific date
  • The program could revert back to the current structure when analysis deems it best after considering
    • the pandemic
    • the business cycle
    • the pro-forma
  • the program could look at other ways to maintain the free time period such as increasing the price
4) Should Council choose to implement at a later date with free time periods the program will be in more difficult situation which will impact the analysis, but the same choices will exist:
  • The program could revert back to the current structure (paying from the beginning) on a specific date
  • The program could revert back to the current structure when analysis deems it best after considering
    • the pandemic
    • the business cycle
    • the pro-forma
  • the program could look at other ways to maintain the free time period such as increasing the price
The program will need to be functional by January in order to avoid financial risk if there is a free hour provided.

In summary, there are numerous options for how and when is best to re-implement the ParkFlag program and many factors involved. Many stakeholders believe management needs to occur as soon as possible. Others fear it will harm their already fragile business. It is not clear when the pandemic will no longer be a factor, but until then Fall and Winter will have reduced business for the Downtown because the weather will impact outdoor seating. Resources exist to continue without revenue into the Winter, but the ongoing costs and the debt cannot be maintained indefinitely and projections show significant concerns if the program does not return before March 1.
ParkFlag Council Presentation 92220


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