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Few issues have flummoxed Salt Lake City leaders as much as downtown parking.

The City Council and mayor's office have discussed the issue at length and have often disagreed on how the perceived lack of free parking downtown might be solved.

The Downtown Alliance is the latest group to offer a potential solution. Tuesday the alliance will unveil a new and improved downtown parking token program it hopes will help alleviate fears that parking downtown is a hassle.

"We're hoping with the open house that's really going to pique the interest," Amy Durham, downtown token project manager, said.

Already various groups have tried their hand at solving downtown parking. Most notably the managers of the ZCMI Center mall give anyone free parking for two hours in the mall's parking garage.

Salt Lake City has also created more metered parking spaces downtown and has offered free parking at city meters during the Christmas shopping season. The city is also set to undertake a new study, in conjunction with the Utah Transit Authority, to determine whether it could make all city meters free 24 hours a day.

That study should begin this summer and will examine all aspects of parking downtown, including whether the city should begin purchasing downtown parking lots and run downtown parking as a public service rather than a private enterprise.

"Should the city get into the downtown parking business?" city transportation director Tim Harpst said. "A lot of cities have their local governments over the parking in the downtown area."

While the city studies its options, the alliance hopes tokens will help in the meantime.

The alliance's token plan works like this: Businesses purchase tokens from the alliance and are able to give those tokens away to customers who spend $20 or more at their business. The tokens are worth $1 and can be used at many parking garages, city parking meters or for a full, one-way fare on TRAX or UTA buses.

In the past, businesses that wanted the tokens were forced to pay the token's full cost, $1. Under the new plan to be unveiled Tuesday, downtown businesses will have to pay only 25 or 50 cents for each token. The difference will now be subsidized by tax dollars that Salt Lake City gives to the Downtown Alliance to run the program.

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Businesses that actively promote the program and give out tokens for $20 purchases can have the tokens for 25 cents. Those that are more selective about whom they give tokens to will have to pay 50 cents, Durham said.

Currently, about 50 downtown law firms, retailers and restaurants are sharing in the program. Durham hopes the new price points will cause more businesses to sign up and make the token program more readily available to consumers.

"We wanted to boost the participation up and make it easier for businesses to participate," she said.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com