It’s time for Downtown Racine’s parking meters to go.
The city Transit and Parking Commission discussed the proposal at its Feb. 21 meeting after 5th District Alderman Steve Smetana brought the conversation forward to the commission. He said he has heard feedback from people who are concerned about the city’s parking regulations — including one resident who received nine parking tickets in one day.
The City of Racine has a large number of parking meters located in the Downtown area, many of which cost 30 to 75 cents per hour. In September 2017, the city launched a mobile application for parking, which allows individuals to pay for parking in 30-minute increments through an electronic device like a cell phone.
Commission members said they were concerned about how much money the city could lose if it eliminated the parking meters. The city estimated it would bring $400,000 in revenue for parking meters in its 2018 budget.
That’s not a small amount. But we’re concerned more about the revenue that isn’t going into the accounts of Downtown businesses as a result of parking meters deterring area residents from shopping there.
The commission also discussed potential alternatives: The city could replace the meters, for example, with a combination of signs limiting how long drivers can park in one spot, along with police enforcement. Commission members noted the City of Kenosha does not have meters and instead uses parking signs in its downtown business district.
We think it’s time Racine stop putting itself at a disadvantage when compared to its urban neighbor to the south.
The idea of signs and enforcement is appealing to Scott Obernberger of Twice Baked Pottery, 320 Main St., according to a recent Journal Times report.
“For too long the city has had meters and it goes against trying to develop a tourist town,” said Obernberger. “The city should have angle parking Downtown, with 2 to 3-hour parking signs so no one can camp out.”
Some commission members said they were concerned people who live above storefronts might be tempted to park on the street all day if they don’t have to plug a meter.
We’re wary of that, too. We want the parking spots in front of Downtown businesses to remain understood as being for patrons of those businesses, not for their employees or for Downtown residents.
Kelly Kruse, executive director of the Downtown Racine Corp., said it stuck with her when travel industry expert Roger Brooks said, in a Nov. 1 talk at the SC Johnson Golden Rondelle Theater, that tourism is the front door to a better residential economy.
“We need to get people to see Racine for the first time in a positive light,” she said.
As Kruse said in November, she believes that Downtown Racine is flourishing, but knows that it could do even better if businesses stayed open later. We agree.
Brooks informed the crowd at the Rondelle in November that 70 percent of all retail spending happens after 6 p.m., a time when many Downtown Racine businesses are closed.
Seventy percent. That’s an awful lot of potential sales to be missing out on. Brooks also said that having 2-hour parking, prevalent in Downtown Racine, is not a good way to keep people there. They won’t spend as much at local stores if they’re checking their watches or if they get a ticket. It’s also important to ensure that there are public restrooms.
As with much of our civic conversation these days, one name is ever-present: Foxconn. As workers start flowing into the area — whether to build the mammoth facility the Taiwanese manufacturer plans to erect in Mount Pleasant , or to work in it — it’s in Racine’s best interests to have Downtown inviting and invigorated, whether before or after 6 p.m.
Eliminating the parking meters would be a giant leap in that direction. Get out the power tools, City of Racine; it’s time to cut ‘em down.