BID finds simple answer to downtown’s parking “problem”

In October 2009, more than three years ago, the city of Oshkosh eliminated those annoying parking meters that charged people for on-street parking.

There has been no rejoicing.

In place of the meters, the city adopted hourly on-street parking and a mix of permit (yearly, monthly and daily options) and hourly parking in its downtown parking lots. The goal was to address the variety of parking demands in downtown, from 40-hour-a-week employees to the casual afternoon shopper.

There has been no rejoicing.

In fact, the hue and cry over downtown parking has only grown in the last year or so. It’s become a perennial issue on the Downtown Oshkosh Business Improvement District board monthly agendas and led to calls for a new downtown parking study. Businesses have posted signs on their doors cautioning customers they could be ticketed. Business owners and Oshkosh Common Councilors alike have taken up the cause of building a parking garage downtown.

Now.

A parking deck would cost upwards of $6 million (UWO’s projected cost for its structure in 2005-2007 was $6.5 million).

A new parking study would cost $25,000 to $35,000.

Oshkosh BID Manager Cassie Cook figured out a way to resolve parking issues for $650.

Cook went to the city and purchased 500, one-day parking passes for $1.30 each ($1.50 individually) and plans to give a few out to BID block captains to introduce them to the passes. She also intends to spread the word that interested business owners or consumers can contact her to find out about how to purchase additional one-day passes for 75 cents each.

They can be used in any of the blue spots detailed in this map, they don’t require a license plate registration and you can move from permit parking spot to permit parking spot all day if you so choose. All you have to do is write the date on it that it’s valid for and stick it in your window.

“Some downtown businesses have already bought some. I hope people realize more than half the spots downtown are permit parking and that you don’t have to buy a monthly one, you can buy these daily ones,” Cook said. “The nice thing about them if they’re parked down by the convention center, they can move to any permit parking spot in downtown. It’s a convenience.”

You can find out more information and contact information here. Cook also said that once the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau moves downtown, it has offered to sell parking passes to downtown visitors as well.

You may have detected more than a little skepticism running rampant throughout this post. Streetwise will gladly empathize with someone who finds the dreaded ticket on their windshield and we understand the frustrations that come with parking regulations. But we also have learned a few things that make us think a parking study is NOT NEEDED. To wit:

  1. Our current system for parking is nowhere near fully utilized. At last month’s Parking Utility meeting, a staff report showed only one parking lot had a permit parking utilization rate above 67 percent in 2012: The Washington Avenue lot southeast of State Street and Washington. That means that at least ONE-THIRD of permit parking spots are available across downtown at any given time.
  2. A parking ramp would not solve the biggest complaint about parking downtown: Proximity. People won’t park in front of Cranky Pat’s on North Main Street if they’re going to Apple Blossom Books and all the City Center spaces are taken up. Building a parking deck in the 200 block of North Main or across from the Convention Center (the two ideas we’ve heard floated), will not prove viable for people who are already consider a one-block walk to the Roxy or two blocks to the Farmers Market too far to go.
  3. People still won’t want to pay for parking. A parking ramp costs lots o’ dough and thus will likely require, at the least, a flat fee to park there (in Appleton, it’s $2-per-day.) Sounds cheap, right? Here’s the problem: People aren’t willing to pay $1.50 to park almost anywhere they want all day right now under current conditions. So, do parking garage supporters really think anyone–business owner, employee or customer–will pay $2-$3 for a ramp?
  4. Even with a parking ramp, people will still complain about parking. Streetwise checked with our Appleton counterpart at The Buzz and discovered that even with at least two parking ramps and those old-fashioned parking meters we abandoned years ago, people up there still complain about parking! Whether downtown is inching along or going gangbusters doesn’t matter: Parking ish still upset people.
  5. Even with a parking study, a parking deck wouldn’t happen for five years or more. With a $6-7 million price tag for a parking garage, the city would likely have to pick up the tab for property acquisition and demolition and construction of the parking garage. The problem is the city’s got the bulk of its borrowing capacity tied up in the Central Garage project for 2013, 2014 and 2015 (probably 2016, too, if you ask Streetwise). As capital improvements line up behind the central garage, it’s unlikely you’d see a garage built for at least a couple of years.

Update: In response to Mike’s comment below, Parking Utility Commission meeting minutes from 2008 and 2009 show such an analysis was a main component of the changes made as the utility sought to eradicate its budget deficit. 

In addition, Streetwise will go one step further and offer an immediate solution that would require commitment from business owners and flexibility from the city: Designate the underutilized High Avenue lot as the employee parking lot and discount monthly parking permits. The lot is woefully underutilized according to the above report (24 percent of spaces), so there’s plenty of room for business owners and employees to park there, thus leaving more spaces (both hourly and permit) open for customers. And the city could do downtown a solid by designating it such and giving anyone who shows some proof they work downtown a $10 or $15 permit for that lot and that lot only. 

 

About Jeff Bollier

Jeff Bollier is an award-winning public affairs reporter for the Oshkosh Northwestern who covers everything from city hall to business. As Streetwise, Jeff delivers updates on the comings and goings of Oshkosh's retail and business world. Jeff is an avid Instagram and Twitter user and a member of the Northwestern Bacon Team.
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