SALT LAKE CITY — Hoping to steer more vehicles into downtown parking structures, city leaders plan to raise the rates for metered stalls and collect those fares later into the evening.
Beginning July 1, the cost for metered parking downtown will increase from $1.50 to $2 per hour, and the hours of enforcement will be extended from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. In addition, the city's tradition of offering two hours of free parking during the holiday shopping season is going away.
The Salt Lake City City Council still must vote to approve the changes later this month as part of the city budget, but a majority of the council supported the actions in a straw poll during a work session Tuesday afternoon.
"Philosophically, we need to be comfortable that we are (Utah's) urban center," Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said. "There's a lot going on (downtown) that you're not going to find in other areas of the valley. It's appropriate to charge for parking."
The changes, originally proposed as part of Mayor Ralph Becker's 2012-13 budget, are seen as a first step in developing a new parking management system in Utah's capital city.
City leaders say there needs to be a "culture change" in the way Salt Lake residents and visitors park downtown. Too often, the on-street, metered spots are being occupied by downtown employees or those spending more than two hours in the city.
"As it stands, it's hard to find a place to park (on downtown streets) at critical times," Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said. "There's no short-term parking."
Frank Gray, Salt Lake City's director of community and economic development, said having metered spots available is critical to downtown businesses.
"The short-term spaces need to turn over for the merchants' sake," Gray said.
Love said there are plenty of places to park downtown in the evenings and weekends for free or little cost.
"I really do think some people feel they cannot go downtown because they can't afford parking," she said. "That's a perception. It's not reality."
As part of its effort to change the culture of parking downtown, the City Council agreed Tuesday to commit about $100,000 on an education and marketing campaign with the Downtown Alliance and the Downtown Retail Merchants Association to make people aware of where they can park and what it costs.
Councilman Carlton Christensen suggested that money the city collects in meters during the holiday shopping season this year be put toward that education effort.
Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, said several garages offer free parking after hours — including the Wells Fargo Center — but the much of the general public doesn't know about them.
"We want everyone to come downtown and find the best, easiest, most convenient parking," Mathis said. "I don't think we've done a good job of communicating that."
The decision to raise parking rates and extend hours of enforcement was not unanimous. Tuesday's discussion started with Councilman Charlie Luke proposing to keep the rate at $1.50 per hour and the hours of enforcement from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Luke said he believes shoppers are just beginning to return to downtown, thanks in large part to the opening of City Creek Center in March. For several years prior to that, the heart of downtown was under construction, he said.
"Right now, in my opinion, we need to be focusing more on helping people change their shopping habits and come back to downtown," Luke said.
The first-term councilman found no support from his colleagues, however, and was the lone vote against increasing the fee, extending the enforcement hours and eliminating free holiday parking.
Becker originally proposed keeping parking meters active until 10 p.m. weeknights. Council members agreed that was too late, and instead supported an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. plan.
A proposal to also charge for metered parking from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays was voted down by the council. That means downtown parking meters will continue to be free on Saturdays and Sundays.