September 26, 2013


Downtown parking in tight spot

Recent changes prompt calls for paid parking, better system

DowntownJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bonnie Calzolaio parks her vehicle in a two-hour parking space Wednesday on Main Street in downtown Cortland.

Staff Reporter

Challenges with downtown parking have been brought back to the forefront following the initiation of the city’s new parking program, and businesses and city officials are looking for a better system.
New resident parking signs are part of a city program to encourage downtown revitalization and they tie in with a tax abatement program approved by the city in May.
Through the program, parking for current, and future, downtown residents has been addressed but other issues and difficulties still remain.
Some businesses, including Blue Frog Cafe owner Karina Murphy, believe that overly strict parking ticket policies and limited-term parking are hurting downtown. In addition to wanting more parking spaces, Murphy believes it is time for the city to adopt parking meters or kiosks.
“The argument toward free parking is, it’s more friendly,” Murphy said. “Until they’re slapped in the face when they get a $25 ticket.”
Murphy said she supports paid parking because it reduces stress for customers who want to spend more than two or three hours downtown without moving their car.
Spaces along Main Street are two-hour parking while most off-street parking is three hours. As part of the changes with the resident parking program, additional three-hour parking was designated. Any spots marked by the new resident parking signs are three-hour parking from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.
“Four kiosks on the street would make it friendly,” Murphy said. “I think it’s (the current system) archaic and unfriendly.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by vendors and customers as well. Tomi Jacobs-Ziabra of The Owl and the Pussycat in Homer travels to different locations and farmers markets to sell her artisan products, including granola, and says she has received a ticket parking downtown before.
Jacobs-Ziabra said she was attending two functions in different locations downtown and walked instead of moving her car. When she returned 2 1/2 hours later, she had received a parking ticket.
That’s left Jacobs-Ziabra more focused on parking when she tries to do more than one thing downtown. She would prefer a paid parking arrangement for the peace of mind.
“I feel like I have to time myself,” Jacobs-Ziabra said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Paying attention to the clock for parking is especially difficult for Ozzy Stephens, the owner of Cortland Fitness Center at 64 Main St. As sole proprietor, Stephens can’t always get away from his business to move his vehicle and said he has received many parking tickets as a result.
The Downtown Partnership offers parking permits that allow all-day parking, though permit holders must abide by odd/even signs and the permits do not apply to parking on Main Street. Permits cost $20 for a month or $15 per month if more than six months are purchased.
Stephens said that his patrons have difficulties finding parking early in the day and in the evenings. The fitness center is open from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays.
Having collected at least a half dozen parking tickets, Josue Aceves has become very familiar with parking regulations and the appeals process. A writer, Aceves frequents the Blue Frog Cafe and says having to constantly remember how long his car has been parked is a drawback to spending time downtown.
“It discourages a friendly atmosphere,” Aceves said, of the two-hour parking.
Even moving his vehicle hasn’t prevented tickets, according to Aceves, who has moved his car and received a ticket that was later waived in court. Aceves said he also spends time at the Commons in Ithaca and doesn’t mind having to pay for parking in the downtown garage.
Murphy and Aceves both said they’re not upset with parking enforcement officers, who are doing their job and generating revenue for the city which pays their salary. Parking ticket revenue is put into the general fund. The total parking ticket revenue is combined together with all other fines and ticket revenue the city receives, according to Director of Finance Mack Cook, and could not be determined by press time.
The city received $250,000 from Empire State Development last December to investigate potential parking improvements, including constructing a parking deck over an existing city lot. Mayor Brian Tobin said that the city would like to look into building a garage, but the more than $1 million price tag makes that unfeasible without additional funding.
“We want to do something to benefit parking downtown,” Tobin said. “It’s not enough money to do what we want to do, but we’re looking at different options.”
Tobin said he’s been working with Adam Megivern from the Downtown Partnership and Garry VanGorder of the Industrial Development Agency on a possible solution.


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