The price to park in downtown Spokane is going up and down – but mostly up.
City street employees are working to adjust meters to reflect price changes the Spokane City Council unanimously approved in December.
The council approved price changes to reflect recommendations of a parking study paid for jointly by the city and the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
It recommended standardizing rates and keeping some of the revenue for downtown and parking improvements. It also determined that most rates were too low, though the shortest-term meters charged too much.
“The rates still are very affordable compared to rates charged in private lots,” said Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref.
The study, from Portland-based Rick Williams Consulting, found that downtown parking increased by 11 percent from 2004 to 2010, as measured by the number of hours vehicles were parked. The study determined that the rise equates to 969 more hours of parking per day.
“It showed that we could increase (rates) without changing the demand much,” said Marla Nunberg, vice president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
The council also supported the study’s recommendation that some of the revenue be reinvested in the parking system and beautification efforts downtown.
The last time rates were raised was 2007.
Part of the reason city officials increased rates then was to cover bond payments the city owes as a result of its settlement with the Cowles Co. over the River Park Square parking garage. That settlement severed the formerly public-private ownership of the garage after years of legal wrangling. Cowles Co. also owns The Spokesman-Review.
From 2005 through 2027 the city will pay $43.4 million to settle its River Park Square debt. The payments for this year total $2.24 million.
City planner Louis Meuler said the city has 2,800 meters that generated about $2.4 million in fees last year. The change is expected to raise revenue by about $600,000.
He said the annual cost of the parking system, including related Municipal Court expenses, is about $4.2 million.
Including fees, parking tickets and other parking revenue, the city makes almost enough to cover that cost.
He said the change should leave money that could be spent to improve parking technology or make other downtown improvements.
That could be better signage, new street trees or beautifying entry points to downtown.
The city is experimenting with new electronic meters that allow customers to pay with credit cards.
“The goal is to move to a smart meter system where you’re not fumbling around for change,” Waldref said.