In Grand Avenue parking meter debate, both sides stalled


By Frederick Melo and Youssef Rddad
Pioneer Press

Posted:   10/20/2015

Grand Avenue's parking meter impasse shows no signs of abating.

As part of his 2016 budget proposal, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's administration has recommended installing 525 parking meters along Grand Avenue from Dale Street to Ayd Mill Road.

The meters, which would be put in place in the spring, are expected to generate some $400,000 in net revenue for city coffers in the first year, and $600,000 in 2017.

Residents and business owners have roundly criticized the proposal at public forums, including a crowded one at William Mitchell College of Law on Monday night. That forum drew the mayor and some 300 attendees, many of them irate.

The Grand Avenue meters are a pilot project that could be expanded to other business districts in the city, but Coleman said there is no second-choice neighborhood in mind if the Grand Avenue plan gets scrapped.

New parking meter rates and schedules are already slated to take effect downtown on Jan. 4. The downtown meters will now expire at 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, though at reduced prices after 6 p.m.

At meters near the Xcel Energy Center and CHS Field, special event rates will apply during games and concerts.

Here's where the sides are lining up.


The mayor has acknowledged missteps in communication with Grand Avenue residents and business owners, but outcry at public forums doesn't change the fact that years of studies have shown too many cars camped out for long periods at prime parking spots.


In addition to boosting the city's general fund, meters will increase vehicle turnover, he said. Minneapolis has 7,000 meters; St. Paul has 2,000.

"We listened," said Coleman on Tuesday. "We'll go back and take into consideration what we heard last night and bring it back for further conversation."

He intends, however, "to weigh that against what we do know about other communities and the concerns that have been raised for the past 30 years about parking on Grand Avenue."

The mayor has said that eight studies have pointed to parking congestion as a serious business concern on Grand, with the latest study completed in 2006. Parking, he said, has made it harder for new businesses to relocate to the avenue.


Residents have expressed concern that business customers looking to avoid meters will tie up parking on residential side streets.

They envision having to plug the meter for several hours each night when they come home from work or go shopping on weekends. The meters would expire at 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

A Sept. 29 community meeting organized by the Summit Hill Association drew 140 attendees.

"The neighboring business owners and residents who showed up were overwhelmingly opposed," said Mark Peschel, board chair of the Summit Hill Association, which has asked the city to hold off on the meters.

"Secondly, we were disappointed with the process," Peschel said. "We had no input into this decision whatsoever."


The Grand Avenue Business Association has come out squarely against the parking meters, and some bars and restaurants are putting up signs urging customers to call Coleman's office with their objections.

Business owners have said Grand Avenue is being unfairly targeted.

"Why are we only taxing one area of St. Paul to make up for a citywide budget problem?" said Jon Perrone, executive director of GABA, at Monday night's forum.

The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce has not taken an official position, but chamber President Matt Kramer has pointed to downtown St. Paul as evidence meters create valuable parking turnover for businesses.

They also force a better use of valuable space. "Meters create more parking," Kramer said. "If you have unstructured parking, you pull in and go 'I think I will leave eight feet in front of me so it's easier to get out.' When you have structured parking, it forces people to park in a slot."


"It came as a total surprise," said Cafe Latte owner Peter Quinn. He has been disappointed with how the city has communicated with businesses about the change.

Quinn said a lot of the businesses along Grand rely on casual shoppers strolling by, and said he worries customers might take their business to places like malls that offer free parking.

"I don't know any other neighborhood street in the Twin Cities that has meters," Quinn said, pointing to Linden Hills in Minneapolis as a similar example of a mixed commercial and residential area.

Cafe Latte customer Cindy Mooney, asked Tuesday what she would do if there were parking meters in front of the eatery, replied: "We would have driven around to find free parking."

Mooney added that she sometimes has had a difficult time using the newer parking meters with a central pay station, especially when it's raining or snowing.

John Harley, a Northern Brewer customer and adjunct professor at Concordia University, said parking meters would impact how often he visits the area.

"I probably come down here a couple times a week," Harley said. "The hardest thing that keeps me from going places is parking."

Scott Kosloski, who manages the brewing supply store Northern Brewer, said: "We have such quick turn-around with our shoppers, and we're concerned it's going to bottleneck the area."

Ryan Lear, a Northern Brewer employee, said more workers will park in residential side-streets if they have to feed the meters on Grand.


Transit advocates from organizations such as St. Paul Smart Trips, Transit for Livable Communities and St. Paul Women on Bikes have come out in favor of the parking meters.

They say parking is heavily subsidized by city property taxes and street assessments, and new forms of revenue are needed to make streets more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

"I paid $180 in right-of-way maintenance fees, though I rarely drive," said Summit Hill resident Mike Sonn, co-chair of the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition, in a social media post. "Same as a neighbor who drives everyday and parks on the street."

Dave Van Hattum, advocacy director for Transit for Livable Communities, said some of the parking revenue could go back to the business districts to pay for improved lighting, sidewalks, trees and other amenities.

"A lot of times businesses will actually do better, because moderate charges for parking means people are turning over," he added.


Saying the issue has been studied to death, St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark and council member Dave Thune have both supported meters on Grand Avenue.

"There is a parking availability problem on Grand Avenue, and there has been for years," Thune said Tuesday. He acknowledged that residents have some legitimate concerns.

"We do need to work really hard to address the needs of renters and people who live on side streets, and we haven't done that hard enough," he said.

Stark has noted that parking is never free. The costs of street maintenance are passed on to building owners through property taxes, and the city has been hard-pressed to find funds to keep up with basic street maintenance over the years.

Council member Dan Bostrom has said he opposes the meters. The rest of the council has taken a wait-and-see approach.


Several candidates in the Nov. 3 city council election have sought to politicize the issue.

After initially showing some openness to the meters, Ward 2 candidates Rebecca Noecker and Darren Tolbert have more recently said the process has been flawed and deserves more discussion.

Candidates Bill Hosko, Pat Fearing, Michael C. Johnson and Sharon Anderson have said they are opposed to the meters.

Led by historic preservationist John Mannillo, attorney Andy Dawkins and others, a new coalition dubbed "St. Paul Strong" has pointed to the parking meters as evidence that the mayor's office lacks transparency and has taken a heavy-handed, top-down approach to policy.

Sarah Horner and Jaime DeLage contributed to this report.