Parking meter issue gets mixed reviews from downtown businesses

While some downtown Macon business owners have mixed feelings about a proposal to install parking meters, they agree that money earned should be reinvested downtown.

This week, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s request to have the parking meter proposal go to City Council’s Public Properties Committee failed. The proposed agreement would be between the city and Connecticut-based LAZ Parking to manage parking downtown.

The agreement calls for LAZ Parking to install parking meters in certain parts of downtown, set up a parking system for downtown residents and manage the city’s Mulberry Street parking deck.

Cesare Mammarella, who owns five downtown businesses, said he hasn’t completely made up his mind about the meters.

“I can see good and I can see negativity coming from it,” said Mammarella, who owns Luigi’s Bistro, Tic Toc Room, Asylum, Dolce Vita and Jack & Coat Clothiers.

“The good being maybe it would emphasize some of the employees being a little bit more cautious as to where they park,” he said.

Mammarella said he tries to encourage employees not to park in high traffic areas in front of businesses.

“That would increase spaces obviously if employees were more conscientious about that,” he said.

The down side of installing parking meters now is the timing, he said.

“I don’t feel we are at the turning point — where there is enough attraction downtown that it doesn’t deter people,” Mammarella said. The downtown area needs more retail businesses before the meters are installed, he said.

“I think if there were 10 more boutique stores that weren’t in some of the other malls ... then I don’t think people would mind (paying to park on the street),” he said.

Abby Gordon, co-owner of Jeneane’s on Mulberry Street, said she changed her feelings about parking meters about 10 years ago when another proposal was made to install them.

“At that time I was totally against it,” Gordon said. “It would actually make the city money and it would take care of some of these people who park on the street all the time and move (their cars) every two hours. ... (They would) finally realize it might be cheaper to pay for parking in a parking lot.”

Gordon talked with her customers about it and most said if they would be able to park close to her restaurant, they wouldn’t mind putting money in a meter.

“I know everyone is saying it will hurt businesses, but I really don’t think it will,” Gordon said. “It will take pocket change.”

Stella Dobanton drove around a bit Wednesday before finding a parking spot on Third Street.

“I seldom come downtown, but I like the free parking,” Dobanton said, although she said that sometimes she has a hard time finding a spot. After she realized the meters might get employees off the streets and into garages, she agreed it might not be a bad idea to have them.

The parking issue — and city council’s recent inaction — came up at the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority meeting Thursday, with some members expressing disappointment that the issue had become politically charged.

Maryel Battin said most street parking spaces are filled before businesses open in the mornings.

“You’ve got parking regulations, and they’re not enforced,” Battin said. “Right now parking downtown is for the employees and not for the shoppers. ... If they don’t want to enforce it, give us parking meters.”

Arty Passias, owner of Greek Corner Deli, at the corner of Cherry and Second streets, indicated he was most concerned about his employees who currently park on the street.

“I think (paying for metered parking) beats a $10 ticket” for parking over the two-hour parking limit now downtown, he said. “It beats going out there every two hours and checking on it.”

If meters are installed, Passias said he would like parking to be free after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

John Mayer, owner of Lawrence Mayer Florist at the corner of Mulberry and Second streets, said he has doubts about meter enforcement.

“If the (Macon Police Department) is in charge of administering it or ticketing, ... I wouldn’t give it much chance then of it being well-organized or successful,” Mayer said. “There doesn’t seem to be in the city a will to stick with something and administer something properly.

“I would just hate it to be another fundraiser for the police department,” Mayer said.

Passias said that people who pay to park downtown “shouldn’t help north Macon or the east side.” Meter money could be used to help with downtown lighting to “jazz it up more,” he said.

Mammarella agreed that “a good percentage” of meter money should be reinvested downtown, to perhaps go toward renovating facades or funds to help entice other retail stores to open downtown.

“I feel something would have to come back into the downtown community to make it worthwhile to even consider doing something like this,” he said.

Staff writer Rodney Manley contributed to this report, which included information from Telegraph archives. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.