They are blue hungry monsters, and they need to be fed.” said one Salt Lake City business owner describing the downtown parking meters, which cost an estimated $15 million of taxpayer money to collect $2 per hour from residents who want to visit downtown Salt Lake City.
This long-time downtown business owner (who wished to remain anonymous) said these meters have caused her customers confusion and the small reward the city earns from the increase in cost is likely just going toward the bill to pay for them. It doesn’t justify the harm they cause to small business owners. “Doesn’t the city receive far more from sales tax than parking meters? Why should they hurt our revenue and their revenue so they can gain more from parking?”
Similar “monsters” have been installed in larger cities across the West, and Mayor Becker and the city council believed the Siemens monsters were a perfect fit for Salt Lake City. Residents and business owners mostly disagree.
This particular business owner didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisals by the city. Fear of speaking up was not a concern for Mike Page, owner of Cinegrill. Cinegrill has been in business for 46 years. They are the second oldest restaurant in Utah. Every night Cinegrill offers homemade spaghetti dinners and live piano music. Cinegrill’s regular loyal customers are not dining there nearly as often due to the $2-$4 additional charge incurred from the meters. Page says their business is down 40 percent since the introduction of the parking meters. He adds that if nothing changes he will not survive six more months.
Outside of Cinegrill we watched a woman and her mother pull into a stall that was free parking up until a year ago. She walked right past the blue meter. We questioned her about parking and she replied, “I’m fine with the parking situation here.”
“So you are fine with the new charges and the new meters?”
“What new meters?” she asked. I pointed out that she needed to pay on the stall she parked at. She would have likely received a ticket had we not pointed this out. She was confused by the numbering system until we explained it to her.
“They [the city] seem so concerned about the City Creek Center and their own revenue, that they have forgotten all about the little guy,” Page said. “They think we need to be more like Denver or Los Angeles, I don’t think the residents here want us to be more like the big cities. I know I live here because Salt Lake City doesn’t have that big city feel about it.” Page said that while he is a “staunch conservative” he was always a supporter of Rocky Anderson and what he did to help small business owners. He doesn’t find any similarities with the current administration.
Another group of professionals coming to dine at Cinegrill said they are fans of the new meters. Dressed in nice suits all had smartphones and apps that provided them with the tools to breeze through the process. Another man pulled up in a Mercedes and said, “Let me put it this way, I’m not happy using these machines.” He has a smartphone but said he isn’t smart enough to use the app for his parking.
Del Vance’s business, the Beer Hive Pub, is one of the few thriving on Main Street. “The parking meters and City Creek are something they really screwed up in my opinion.“ The old meters were fine. Granted they didn’t take credit cards, but they were fine. They took change and were just as environmentally friendly. To justify the cost they write more parking tickets and it aggravates people and they want to come downtown less and less.”
Vance went on to say that the city should be giving incentives to people to travel downtown because they need to understand their competition is the suburbs where parking is free. The city should be helping business owners by attracting more customers to visit, “ You don’t entice them by throwing parking fines on their windshield.”
Vance compared the situation to the prior completion of the Crossroads Mall 35 years ago, “One of the reasons Main Street died decades ago is when they built Crossroads Mall. At the same time they built the mall with free parking they reduced all the parking on Main street by reconfiguring parking lots on Main Street and widening the sidewalks.” He added, “It was a double whammy. And they just made the same mistake again. They just built a brand new mall with all the free parking and at the same time they took away two more hours of free parking on Main Street and increased the parking rate. If their goal is to get people out of the mall and out onto the rest of the blocks downtown – that’s not the way to do it.”
Bennion Jewelers’ opinion of the parking meters is negative. “Our clientele is older and they don’t know how to do it. The biggest complaint is you can’t tell if someone just pulled out and you have time left on their meter and so the city is double dipping.” Riki Bennion added, “I feel like they’re gouging the little guy.” They are very aggressive in patrolling. If you go to a movie you have to get up in the middle of the movie and feed the meter. I’m sure its enriching the coffers but it makes you feel resistant to parking downtown.”
Bennion’s current home on 100 South and Main was previously owned by the LDS Church who sold the property to the city, who recently condemned their building, due to the low rent the building fetches. The city will build a high rise at the location. Bennion Jewelers will move to South Temple this fall.
Utah Stories tried on numerous attempts to contact Mayor Becker.§
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