Officials said meters would boost revenue, turnover, but vociferous opposition sank proposal
By Kevin Duchschere Star Tribune
October 29, 2015 — 10:41pm
The Grand Avenue Business Association collected 3,000 signatures on a petition opposing parking meters.
Turns out that you can fight City Hall after all — and actually win.
Mayor Chris Coleman said Thursday that he was dropping plans to install parking meters along St. Paul’s popular Grand Avenue, after City Council Member Dave Thune killed council support by saying he no longer backed the proposal in the face of sweeping community opposition.
Coleman said he remained convinced that meters would increase customer turnover for Grand Avenue’s many businesses by opening up more parking spaces. Meters would also encourage more people to walk or use transit to get there, he said.
“But it is clear that, in the absence of council support, this proposal cannot go forward,” the mayor said.
He added that “in light of the strong and vocal opposition that we’ve seen expressed over the last couple months,” he didn’t see an opening for new parking meters outside of downtown “any time in the near future.”
Coleman noted that the leading candidates for Thune’s seat in Tuesday’s election, DFLers Rebecca Noecker and Darren Tobolt, also opposed meters on Grand.
Thune, who is not seeking re-election after 20 years representing the east end of Grand Avenue, said he concluded he couldn’t support the plan without a community consensus. He said there wasn’t enough time to build the necessary support before the end of the year, when the city’s 2016 budget containing the plan must be finalized by the council.
Both Thune and Coleman attended a packed community meeting last week, where several hundred people let them know that they didn’t like the parking meter plan. They shouted down the mayor and loudly booed the few in the crowd who spoke in favor of meters.
“Honest to God, I didn’t expect the feedback to be that violently overwhelming,” Thune said Thursday at a City Hall news conference. “My wife is mad at me. My sister-in-law is mad at me. … It’s really, really, really widespread against the meters, and it’s just not right to move forward with that kind of reaction.”
Thune said he called Coleman only a few minutes before the news conference to let him know of his decision to oppose the meters, which doomed the plan since the St. Paul council typically defers to the wishes of the local council member.
“He’s not pleased,” Thune said of the mayor, “but … he’s not going to put out a contract on me. He understands.”
The Grand Avenue meters were expected to generate $400,000 for the 2016 general fund and nearly $800,000 annually. Coleman said he hadn’t yet identified revenue to plug the budget gap left by the canceled meters, but planned to send the council an amended proposal soon.
The mayor proposed meters for a neighborhood commercial district in his August budget address, along with an extension of usage hours for downtown parking meters. District councils and business groups were to be consulted before deciding where to put the meters.
But city officials quickly settled on Grand Avenue, which gets plenty of traffic from outside the city as well as within. The plan was to install the meters in May, at a cost of about $730,000.
Business owners and residents, angered that no one had asked them first, struck back. Protest signs went up in shop windows, and nearly 200 hissed at Public Works Director Kathy Lantry when she tried to explain the proposal at a community meeting last month.
Some meter opponents were at City Hall on Thursday to listen as Thune announced his about-face.
“Thank you for listening,” said Jon Perrone, executive director of the Grand Avenue Business Association, which had collected 3,000 signatures on a petition opposing meters. “It really shows that politics does work as it’s supposed to.”
“The moral of the story is, democracy works. People need to speak up, and when they do, they get listened to,” said Mike Schumann, owner of the home furnishings store Traditions.
Schumann added that the controversy had the odd result of bringing Grand Avenue residents and businesses closer together, something that doesn’t always happen. “We need to thank the mayor for that,” he said.