The war on downtown’s parking meters continues

Skip Frostenson of Jacksonville, left, and David Simmonds of Orlando, add money to a parking meter on the Ocala Downtown Square in Ocala on Jan. 7. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted January 22, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee, Ocala Gazette

Skip Frostenson of Jacksonville, left, and David Simmonds of Orlando, add money to a parking meter on the Ocala Downtown Square in Ocala on Jan. 7. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Parking meters are back after the holidays and the debate over their future continues.

Business owners, visitors and city officials continue to feud about the 262 metered parking spaces.

While Cammie McLeod – head buyer and designer at Gause and Sons Jewelers – says meters should go, Paula King – owner of AGAPANTHUS – is all for them.

According to King, when parking meters are disabled, employees of nearby businesses park in the spaces. As a result, customers must walk farther to shop and dine.

“We’re all guilty of it,” King said. “We think, ‘Oh, it’s just me,’ but it turns into more and more. And eventually, most of the parking is taken by employees, and then customers have to walk farther.”

When the meters were installed in 2017, the goal was to encourage employees and long-term visitors to park in the downtown parking garage, 504 SE Broadway Street, which opened a year earlier.

It worked. But when the Hilton Garden Inn opened in October, 120 of the garage’s 402 parking spaces were reserved for hotel guests. The move left free parking near downtown in short supply.

After the Ocala City Council approved tweaks to the parking garage’s layout to help the situation, Council President Justin Grabelle was quick to suggest they rethink parking meters.

“Obviously, I’ve been supportive of getting rid of those (parking meters) for some time,” Grabelle said. “But with those spots (in the garage) being taken up… I think it would show a lot of good will to the community to open those spots up and make them free to park.”

Grabelle has long opposed the meters. He did not immediately return calls for comment.

The council installed the meters after a study performed by Rich & Associates Parking Consultants in 2010.

At the time of the study, most parking spaces downtown were un-metered with time limits. However, the study found that many vehicles parked in the on-street, two-hour locations exceeded the posted time limit.

“The number of vehicles parking all day at the short-term meters is a problem in Ocala,” the study concluded.

The city installed 148 parking meters at a cost of cost of about $126,000. An hour of parking cost 50 cents an hour.

In 2019, the meters collected $43,719 for the city. In 2020, that dropped to $26,665. However, the meters were disabled from March to September in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The City of Ocala collects on the parking meters, however, they are not designed as a primary revenue generator for the city. Funds collected from metered spaces are put directly back into the city as a way of repairing parking meters, installing parking signage, and ensuring that leased spaces are properly maintained, etc.,” said Ashley Dobbs, a city spokeswoman.

Valet services were formerly offered in the downtown area, but have since ceased.

“The valet services contract expired in April 2020, and due to the uncertainty of COVID we decided not to renew with the vendor, Safe Parc,” Dobbs said. “The money previously allocated for the valet services is currently being used for leasing the Barrett parking lot in downtown Ocala.”

While the debate continues, the parking meters are back in business.

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