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The way members of two City committees see it, parking can be an engine of economic development. Making it easy for employees of Evanston businesses to park here is one way of keeping owners satisfied enough to remain in Evanston.
In the downtown area, the City last year initiated a pilot program under which monthly parking fees for the top, uncovered level of the Sherman Avenue garage were reduced by $35, from $85 to $50. The purpose of the program was threefold, said parking manager Rickey Voss: to offer lower-cost parking to lower-income employees in downtown Evanston, to get cars off the street and into the garages, and to fill up the top floor of the Sherman Avenue garage. Cars with reduced-price parking stickers cannot park on the lower, covered tiers without incurring extra costs, he added.
The program has been a success on all three points, Mr. Voss told members of the Parking and Transportation Committee and the Economic Development Committee at a joint meeting on Oct. 27. He said the City has rented about 200 spaces, which provided about $12,000 additional income to the City this year. He said he thinks some additional money can be gained from the top tier of the garage by “overselling,” that is, selling spaces when they are not being used by the monthly parkers.
Mr. Voss also recommended expanding the program to the Maple Avenue garage, where 250 top-tier spaces would be available. The City would need about $47,000 to purchase transponders and automated gates to cordon off that area of the garage, Mr. Voss said. The Sherman Avenue garage was built with gates separating certain areas, but the Maple Avenue garage was not, he said. The committees voted to recommend to City Council that the money be expended to similarly equip the Maple Avenue garage. Mr. Voss said the City anticipates receiving about $15,200 annually from the low-cost, top-tier monthly parking fees at the Maple Avenue garage.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, who chairs both committees, said it is “important to make Evanston more business-friendly and to keep business here. [This] takes a lot less time than trying to find some business to replace one that’s left.”
Joseph Flanagan, founder and CEO of Acquirent, and Wendy Flood, manager of office operations of Leapfrog Online, spoke to the committee members as representatives of the recently formed business group RISE – Risk Innovation for Success in Evanston. In September, members of RISE presented the City Manager with a list of “talking points” about how Evanston could become a more business-friendly community. Among their suggestions was affordable parking for employees.
Ms. Flood said because of the two-hour parking limit around their offices at 807 Greenwood St., Leapfrog’s employees must continually leave the office and, well, hop to new parking spaces. She asked that the City create a business parking area on the street, for which the company would pay the City.
Ald. Wynne said, “How do we keep businesses [in Evanston] and help out neighbors [who may resent the additional cars taking up parking space]?”
Dave Reynolds, a member of the Parking and Transportation Committee, said, “It’s important to look at all off-street options, because this [allowing a business to pay for parking for its employees on residential streets] is a slippery slope. We’re going to get all kinds of applications from other areas, and it’ll be hard to turn them down.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “I believe that anyone with a City of Evanston parking sticker should be able to park anywhere in the City of Evanston.”
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said, “I’m concerned that people think that street parking belongs to the homeowners. … The idea that ‘the parking spot in front of my house is mine’ … [is a notion] I don’t agree with.” She said she favored letting businesses pay for nearby on-street parking. “We need to be focused on local residential/business districts – parking must be accommodated,” she said.
Ald. Wynne suggested that the parking division conduct a survey of the area around Leapfrog Online, Sherman Avenue and Greenwood Street, “to study who the parkers are, where they come from and what the usage [of the parking spaces] is during the day.”
At the Nov. 8 City Council meeting, aldermen voted to approve funding to equip the Maple Avenue garage with additional gates to allow rental of the top tier.
Directing TrafficAt the joint meeting of the Economic Development Committee and the Parking and Transportation Committee, members discussed the need to replace the City’s wayfinding signs, i.e., those that direct visitors to specific sites and areas of Evanston.
“”Wayfinding is related to economic development,”” said Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne – “”getting people into the business districts and into the [parking] garages.””
Committee members said they would like to see larger signs, friendlier signs and, in some cases, more specific signs. They also said they thought it was important that a sign be located on Church Street at Ridge Avenue, or perhaps one block east of there, to indicate that vehicles should be in the left lane in order to turn onto Maple Avenue to park for the movie theaters in the Maple Avenue garage. A map on the ground floor of the garage could also help orient shoppers, diners and moviegoers to the area.
Some committee members suggested high-tech innovations to alert visitors to the downtown area about parking – either a lighted, real-time sign near the entrance to downtown or perhaps a phone “”app”” that advised users of available parking.
Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce said he thought the committee or the City should look at the signs near the entrances to the City. “”They say, ‘Welcome to Evanston,’ and list all the things you can’t do.”” He said he thought it was possible for signage to get both messages across in a friendlier fashion.