Phoenix parking-meter changes hurting business, owners say

November 15, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Ryan Van Velzer

Downtown Phoenix at 5:30 p.m. Friday used to mean at least two things: happy hour and free parking.

But in August, city officials expanded parking-meter hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, plus holidays.

Now, small businesses and developers in downtown say the increased hours are affecting their bottom line, said Mat Englehorn, owner of Angel's Trumpet Ale House, a bar and restaurant near Second and McKinley streets.

While downtown patrons visiting venues such as Chase Field, the Phoenix Convention Center and US Airways Center can find long-term parking in garages, those frequenting restaurants, bars and stores north of Fillmore Street have no such alternatives, Engelhorn said.

Two- to four-hour parking-meter limits force customers to leave prematurely, he said.

"With this parking issue, I wouldn't open another place down here," Englehorn said during a meeting with Phoenix Councilmen Michael Nowakowski in late October. "One, for my staff. Where am I going to park them? Two, it seems like you're (the city) trying to prevent people from coming down here."

If someone wants to come downtown on a Friday night for a dinner and a movie, it's going to take longer than four hours, he said. People who would come to hang out and spend money downtown will just leave after their parking-meter limit is up, he said.

Additionally, employees working at small businesses such as Angel's Trumpet have fewer places to park, Engelhorn said.

"I have 15 to 16 people doing eight-hour days; they have to go to all the free areas to park," he said.

The city has taken steps to curb issues surrounding parking-meter changes.

Street Department officials have decided to postpone the parking-meter price hikes, known as demand-based pricing, while reviewing how parking is used downtown, said Monica Hernandez, Phoenix spokeswoman.

The department also has listened to concerns from businesses and has changed the hours and parking-meter types as a result. For example, officials expanded the parking-meter time limit from two to four hours in front of Crescent Ballroom.

Outside Angel's Trumpet, officials switched out parking meters from quarter-accepting machines to credit-card machines — a solution that avoids the headache of having to make change for customers needing quarters, Englehorn said.

"(City officials) are doing some of the things that we are asking for, which is great. It shows they are listening," he said.

But over at Turf, an Irish pub on First Street north of Pierce Street, management brings in $120 in quarters every day to help meet the demand of the customers coming in asking for change, said KP Edwards, Turf general manager.

At Turf, the parking meters, which are credit-card and coin operated, have only a two-hour limit, Edwards said.

It's an issue of customer convenience, he said.

"Am I over the meter or am I not?" Edwards said. "Most people are saying, 'This is a pain in our butt. We want to go out, we want to have good time.' The time limit limits how long they can stay, and they end up having to move or leave."

As for customers who drink too much to drive, they end up with a parking ticket if they can't get to their vehicle by 8 a.m. the next day, he said.

"We are putting an extra burden on them. Even though the meter doesn't run all night, you have to be there by 8 a.m. in the morning, which is a problem," Edwards said.

Small businesses and their customers aren't the only ones feeling the squeeze from the new parking-meter hours.

Property developers such as Patrick Cantelme, who is planning a re-adaptive-use development near Fourth Avenue and Van Buren Street, said that having enough available parking for customers is a concern for businesses looking to come to downtown Phoenix.

"We're willing to develop the project, which is pretty expensive, a more than $3 million investment, and if we can't solve the parking issues, then we can't get tenants that would justify spending that kind of money on those buildings," he said.

However, city officials said increasing parking-meter times to include nights, weekends and holidays helps businesses turnover customers, Hernandez said.

"The meter is intended to accommodate," she said. "It allows them to park curbside to ensure there is turnover. Where it makes sense we are increasing time limits based on what makes sense in that area and what makes sense for the use of the meter."

The goal, Hernandez said, is to strike a balance between the needs of businesses, the city and downtown patrons, she said.

To do that, the Streets Department is evaluating the location and availability of free parking downtown, changing parking meters to include more machines and keeping meter rates between $1 to $1.50 an hour until the evaluation is complete, she said.

"We recognize that there is a need for parking, and we are looking into and identifying how this can be resolved by working with the businesses," Hernandez said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Turf brings in an extra $20 in quarters per week for customers who need change for parking meters.

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