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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Spokane revenues from downtown parking recovering, but pandemic pain lingers

Jacob Briscoe, a parking enforcement specialist with the City of Spokane, collects parking meter revenue on his route along Lincoln Street on Friday.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

Three years after the coronavirus pandemic began, Spokane still doesn’t take in as much money from its street parking downtown as it did before 2020.

Before March 2020, Spokane’s downtown parking revenues had been growing steadily.

The city collected nearly $2.7 million from parking in 2013; by 2019, that figure jumped roughly 30% to almost $3.4 million. Parking revenues stagnated briefly between 2015 and 2017 but jumped roughly 10% in 2018.

“We were heading in a positive direction, with the vitality of downtown and how we’re managing our parking system to support the business efforts in the downtown core,” said Luis Garcia, Spokane’s director of code enforcement and parking services.

“However, when the pandemic hit, it really forced us to take the pain with the rest of the business community,” he added.

Downtown parking took a big hit in 2020, declining by 44% to $1.9 million. Other sectors saw sharper declines, such as public transit. Local ridership plummeted 65% the same year.

The decline in parking revenue was also not entirely due to people no longer driving to downtown Spokane.

From March to May 2020, the city made all parking downtown free to encourage people to patronize struggling businesses. Around 80 high-use spaces near restaurants were permanently converted into 10-minute parking zones for quick pick-ups.

“They were meant to help with economic recovery, but they were so appreciated by the business and the restaurant community that even when parking came back on, we left them,” said Kirstin Davis, a city spokeswoman.

Revenue rebounded nearly 35% in 2021, with $2.6 million collected that year. That rate of recovery faltered in 2022, when $2.7 million was collected.

However, Garcia cautioned that last year’s slowdown was caused at least partially by the city’s work to replace parking meters installed in 1993 with modern units. While they’re being swapped out, some stalls don’t have functioning meters to collect revenue, he said.

Garcia is optimistic that parking revenues will continue to rebound and eventually overtake 2019’s. There are ongoing conversations about raising parking fees, which Garcia said were outdated and so cheap compared to other options that there wasn’t enough incentive to leave in a timely manner.

Without that parking turnover, people trying to find a spot often end up circling through town, unwilling to pay the much higher rates at a parking lot but unable to find an on-street spot.

The city doesn’t just collect revenue from people who park legally. From 2014 to 2022, between $1 million and $1.25 million from parking tickets were diverted annually from the city’s general fund into the parking services department.

An additional $260,000 to $520,000 a year is collected from other sources, including permits for reserved parking, commercial loading zones, residential monthly parking passes and other services.

A large portion of Spokane’s parking revenue goes toward paying off debt from the city’s 2005 settlement related to the River Park Square controversy. The city took out debt to settle lawsuits and makes annual payments to settle the debt.

Between 2019 and 2022, the city made yearly loan payments of around $1.7 million. Another $1.725 million payment is due this year, with slight escalations each year until the final, larger balloon payment in 2027.

The remaining funds pay for the operations of parking services personnel, including the physical labor of collecting coins, enforcing parking laws and more.

If there are still leftover funds, the department works with the Parking Advisory Committee on projects to enhance downtown, such as with hanging flower baskets. However, Garcia notes, it’s been a while since there were leftover funds.

Unlike many other city operations, parking services was not buoyed with pandemic relief funds, Garcia said. Instead, the department kept its budget balanced by keeping vacant positions open – though there were no layoffs, Garcia adds – and using loans to finish work like the ongoing installation of new parking meters.

Work to

watch for

Work on the City Line bus rapid transit project will cause closure of some parking and traffic shifts in Browne’s Addition.

Southbound Cannon Street traffic near Station 1 will be shifted between Third and Fourth avenues.

Northbound Spruce Street traffic will be shifted between Second and Third avenues, and eastbound Second Avenue traffic will be shifted between Spruce and Hemlock streets near Station 2. Parking will also be temporarily removed on the west side of Spruce Street.

Pacific Avenue parking will be temporarily closed near stations 3 and 5. Traffic lanes will be shifted between Spruce and Hemlock streets, and Oak and Maple streets.

Northbound Regal Street between Palouse Highway and 46th Avenue will be closed Wednesday to fix a water leak. Detours will be in place.

Construction of a wellhouse building will close Ivanhoe Road in the county between Holland and Wall streets on Monday through April 3.

Construction of a parking lot at the new Carla Peperzak Middle School will close Altamont Street at 63rd Avenue beginning Thursday through Aug. 15.