Thanks to a quick effort by several downtown merchants, the downtown's parking meters are expected to be hooded this Christmas season after all.
Although Downtown Lawrence, the downtown merchants association, had earlier decided it was too costly to reimburse the city for the lost parking fees this year, a group of about 70 downtown merchants banded together to continue the tradition.
"We have literally gone out on the streets and asked people independently of Downtown Lawrence to contribute money to the effort," said George Paley, owner Natural Way, 820 Mass.
Paley and Win Campbell, owner of Campbell's Clothing, 841 Mass., said the merchants hope to get approval from the Lawrence City Commission at its Dec. 5 meeting.
If the commission approves it, parking meters would be hooded Dec. 6 through Dec. 24, giving customers 18 days of free parking, Campbell said.
"IT WOULD be nice to have had more than that if we could have gotten on this a little quicker, but it's still a three-week period, so that's pretty good," Campbell said. "I'm going to get the ball rolling with the city staff this morning."
He said tentative plans call for hooding the parking meters, as in the past, on Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and the side streets from Sixth Street through 11th Street.
"It is something that we had started doing about three to four years ago, and it's something that we want to be able to offer as a holiday gesture," Campbell said.
Campbell said the effort will not being run through the Downtown Lawrence group because it is not financially able to fund the effort this year.
"That doesn't mean the organization won't in the future take on that responsibility, because I'm sure it will," he said.
Paley said those working on the project have collected about $2,500.
"I believe it costs about $2,000 to pay the city to reimburse the lost revenues," Paley said. "The other money is to buy the plastic bags to put over them."
Paley said the downtown merchants will try to make sure the free parking is reserved for downtown shoppers.
"WHAT WE are going to try to do to keep people from abusing the hooded meters is we're going have the parking meter personnel operate the meter spaces like they do the two-hour parking lots," Paley said. "A big part of our effort is to try to get downtown business owners, downtown business employees and downtown residents to leave the spaces open for downtown shoppers."
Paley said those working on the project tried to collect $1 to $2 per front foot from each store, so the average donation was about $35.
Until the meters are hooded, Paley said, some merchants will continue the plan suggested by Downtown Lawrence to reimburse customers for their parking by handing them a dime for the meter.
"We're starting today," Paley said. "What we're trying to do is make it as easy as we can for people to park downtown. We know it's a problem, and we're trying to do lots of different things to eliminate some of the problems."