A parking management company wants to bring parking meters back to a portion of downtown Macon.
About 50 residents and business people attended a Tuesday afternoon presentation by LAZ Parking, a company that wants to win a five-year city contract. If approved by the mayor and City Council, the company would install the meters and manage the city’s parking decks and public lots.
Parking meters haven’t been downtown since they were removed in 1983.
Phil Oropesa, vice president of government services for LAZ, said the company’s proposal calls for the installation of nearly 800 parking meters and new downtown parking zones.
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“Downtown parking is critical to merchant sales,” he told the crowd that gathered for the presentation at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s not being utilized to its full potential, which is a detriment to downtown businesses.”
Under the proposal, the city would lease the meters from the Georgia Municipal Association’s lease pool, said Andrew Blascovich, the city’s director of external affairs.
The plan calls for the city to receive 100 percent of fines collected for parking violations, plus a percentage of money collected from the meters. Blascovich said the city would keep a minimum of $250,000 per year from meter collections, according to the proposed contract.
LAZ Parking would keep meter profits from $250,000 to $650,000, Blascovich said. Any amount above $650,000 would be evenly split between Macon and LAZ Parking, he said.
For managing the Mulberry Street parking deck, LAZ Parking would receive from the city about $1,100 per month, Blascovich said. The city would keep any profits after operating costs are deducted. LAZ Parking would receive 7 percent of the proceeds if the profits exceed $72,000 a year.
The parking management plan calls for parking restrictions in part of downtown.
LAZ Parking would set up residential zones and a central business district zone downtown. Residents would be able to purchase a parking decal for $25 a year, while business owners and employees could purchase business decals for a monthly fee, Oropesa said. Right now, that part of the proposal is $20 per month.
Oropesa said some of the residential areas near Mercer University and The Medical Center of Central Georgia often fill their spaces with students and hospital employees, while residents have difficulty parking near their homes. The new proposal would change that, setting limited times during business hours for nonresidents to park.
Many downtown business owners have opposed parking meters in the past because of concerns that paying for parking might cause shoppers to spend their money in other parts of town where parking is free, such as Macon Mall or The Shoppes at River Crossing.
But many of the business operators at Tuesday’s gathering seemed open to the idea of meters — as long as the city reinvests its revenues from parking back into downtown.
Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, said the public-private agency initially opposed the idea of parking meters but now is in favor of them, as long as downtown sees the benefits.
“We did a study and found out that a number of people were moving their cars after two hours,” Ford said. “We decided it would be better with meters. People would be treated more fairly.”
Oropesa said that under the current system, would-be customers often can’t find a parking spot near a restaurant or shop. Meters would force people to move their cars after a certain time limit, opening the spaces for new customers, he said.
Tony Long, a downtown developer, said there is a need for meters, but he said downtown has to see some of that money in order for businesses to remain competitive.
“We do need to control parking, but not just for downtown,” he said. “Downtown business owners need extra benefits if more money is going into the general fund. ... I don’t think you’ll find property owners who will support it unless that money comes downtown.”
Macon City Councilman Tom Ellington said he hasn’t heard much about the proposal, but he expects to hear from residents and business owners in the coming days. Downtown Macon comprises most of Ellington’s council ward.
“With the residential program, there’s a large number that require spaces,” he said. “With Mercer and the Medical Center, parking is a challenge. This (proposal) might take care of that. ... If the meters are going to happen, the money needs to be reinvested into downtown.”
Blascovich said the administration plans to work with the council on how the money might be distributed, but no specific plan has been set. Right now, the emphasis is on getting the ordinance ready to send to the council for consideration by the end of July.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.