SALT LAKE CITY — Bags and bows again will decorate downtown parking meters this holiday season, giving shoppers a two-hour gift of free parking.
Shoppers would be wise, though, to save those extra quarters for 2012, when the cost to park for an hour downtown increases from $1 to $1.50.
The Salt Lake City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to continue the tradition of free parking at metered spots for holiday shoppers this year. And unlike 2010, when budget constraints led the council to shorten the free-parking period by six days, the city's gift to shoppers this holiday season will run from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
In a letter to the City Council, Dowtown Alliance Chairman Kent Gibson and Executive Director Jason Mathis requested that the city continue the free-parking practice, saying it's "a highly anticipated tradition that helps to keep downtown Salt Lake City vibrant."
"We have received feedback from downtown merchants who benefit from this practice, and their customers very much appreciate this annual gesture," the letter reads.
Salt Lake City officials estimate the city will miss out on roughly $100,000 in coin revenue and $50,000 in revenue from fines by offering the free parking.
However, the city expects to make back twice that much before the fiscal year ends June 30, 2012, thanks to the 50-cent-per-hour increase at parking meters approved during the most recent budget cycle.
Revenue from parking meters, including six months at the higher rate, is expected to increase by $300,000 for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Revenue from the increased fees will be used to help fund the installation of parking pay stations throughout the city, allowing motorists to use credit cards to pay for parking.
Salt Lake City has offered free metered parking during the holiday shopping season every year since 2003.