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City asked to cut downtown employees a break on parking; talk of a downtown liquor store versus downtown grocery

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At last night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, I felt like we were pretty close to hearing one of those “back in my days, we walked up hill both ways” type of stories. The subject was downtown parking, and how far downtown employees may have to walk to find a free parking space.

Perhaps you have seen that there is a petition floating around the Internet protesting a parking change that is about to happen downtown. In early September, city officials will start charging people to park on the roof of the parking garage at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. For years, the city has offered free, long-term parking on the roof, and it gradually has become a popular place for downtown employees to park.

Downtown employee Mallory Liss has started an online petition asking commissioners to offer free parking passes to people who can prove they are downtown employees, or absent that, at least a reduced-fee, monthly parking pass for downtown employees. As of this morning, the petition had 196 signatures.

City commissioners last night reacted a bit like we do when we find one of those pretty yellow envelopes underneath our windshield wipers. They weren’t too enthusiastic. (I thought I had better clarify, in case you thought I meant they put it in their purse, proceeded to go shoe shopping, repeated the process daily, and then several months later were holed up in my storm shelter with their chocolate fountain hiding from a warrant related to outstanding parking tickets. That didn’t happen. Not to city commissioners, anyway.)

Instead, commissioners pointed out that free, long-term parking is available on the rooftop level of the city’s new parking garage next to the public library at 7th and Vermont streets.

“It seems like that is the answer to the situation,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “There are quite a few spaces there.” (About 70.)

But Liss, who works at Weaver’s, pointed out the 7th and Vermont parking garage isn’t as centrally located as the Ninth and New Hampshire garage. That’s when I thought we were going to hear the up hill both ways story, but we didn’t quite get there.

“Well,” Schumm said, “if we were in New York City or even the Plaza, that would be a really short walk. Plus, it is healthy for you.”

After the meeting, Liss said she’s also concerned about when the city will decide to take away the free spaces on the top level of the Vermont Street parking garage.

Commissioners didn’t completely rule out her idea for a reduced rate parking pass for downtown employees. They asked city staff to prepare a report in the next few weeks. But they also noted that parking in downtown Lawrence is pretty cheap. For $192, the city sells an annual pass that allows people to park in any long-term space in downtown. That rate hasn’t been raised since . . . at least 1996. But Liss noted that for a part-time, downtown employee waiting tables or clerking a register, it can be difficult to come up with nearly $200 all at once. That’s why she would like the option of buying a monthly pass. The city doesn’t offer a monthly pass, but it does offer a quarterly pass, but sales of those passes have been light. The city has sold 67 of the quarterly passes thus far in 2014, compared to 672 of the annual passes.

City officials say they are removing the free parking designation from the New Hampshire Street garage because demand for that garage is greatly increasing with the apartments nearby and all the development that is happening at the intersection. And the city would like to collect as much fee revenue as it can from the garage because the city’s parking fund could use it.

The city’s recent budget process served as a reminder that the parking fund is technically a money-loser. In 2013, the parking fund took in $1.1 million but spent $1.2 million. Even though the city will get new revenue from the Vermont Street parking garage in 2015, revenue for the parking fund is projected to go down by about $70,000 because the new garage is expected to cut down on the number of people who receive overtime parking fines in the city’s short-term spaces.

It also is important to remember that the money motorists pay to park in downtown really does very little to fund maintenance of the city’s parking garages or lots. Maintenance of those facilities basically comes from general tax dollars. The parking fees largely fund the five parking control officers who go around and monitor the meters and write the tickets. In addition, the fees fund about 10 other city positions, including three Municipal Court clerks, three police officers, and some maintenance workers in public works and parks and recreation.

In short, the city’s parking fund is an odd one, but as City Manager David Corliss points out frequently, its purpose is not to make money. Its main purpose is to help keep downtown healthy.

We’ll see where this parking discussion goes. But Liss does bring up an interesting issue. A part-time student clerk who works, for example, 20-hours a week for 40 weeks a year at $8 an hour is probably spending about 3 percent of her gross pay on parking if she buys a city permit. It would be an even greater percentage of her net pay. Whether that constitutes a burden probably depends on where you sit. One thing, however, is certain: Downtown wouldn’t work as well as it does if it wasn’t for the relatively cheap labor that waits tables and staffs cash registers.

In other news and notes from around town:

• How about a liquor store in downtown Lawrence? Some folks aren’t excited about the idea. Leaders with the Downtown Grocery Project have begun expressing concern that the former Borders site at Seventh and New Hampshire may be purchased to serve as a liquor store. The leaders of the grocery group aren’t excited about that prospect. They believe the Borders store should be used to house a small, urban grocery store.

Mayor Mike Amyx said he wants to have a discussion about whether liquor stores should be allowed in the downtown zoning district. Currently, they are allowed, there just happens to be none on Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Vermont. There is Jensen’s near Ninth and Mississippi. Commissioners agreed to have the discussion, but Schumm said he wanted to be careful about deleting possible uses in the downtown area. As more people live in the downtown area, they’re likely to want convenience-based businesses, such as liquor stores. He noted that in the 1970s, there were several liquor stores downtown.

For what it is worth, Schumm said he’s been told the rumors of a liquor store going into the Borders space are false. I haven’t heard that either. While we’re passing along rumors, the most interesting one I’ve heard is that an independent Wichita-based grocer has an interest in the site, but I haven’t been able to confirm that. Amyx has indicated he’s spent some time in meetings recently about a downtown grocery, but he said it was too early to provide any details.

The Downtown Grocery Project is making a point to highlight that the Borders building is the only site that currently meets all the requirements for a downtown grocery. I won’t debate that, but that may be changing. I know the developers of the multistory hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire have ground floor space where they would like a grocery. Plus, Doug Compton’s proposal to redevelop the Allen Press property at 11th and Massachusetts also could feasibly include a grocery component. Thus far talk at that site has focused more on a drug store being the retail anchor tenant for an apartment project, but in case you haven’t noticed, talk on that project has slowed significantly. I had expected by this time that CVS would have announced its intention to go into the space. That hasn’t happened, but when I talked to Compton more than a month ago, he said he was still very much interested in redeveloping the space.

Comments

Leslie Swearingen 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I agree with Schumm, they should be able to walk from the Vermont parking garage with no problems. Also, they could take the bus to downtown and then walk. This would be better for them, for the environment, for the city.

Leslie

Wayne Kerr 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Great argument there Bob. If this were NY...you could take the subway or catch a cab to work. If this were NY the city commission wouldn't allow a developer to build a high rise apartment building with no additional parking included.

Bruce Bertsch 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Obviously you have never worked in NYC where there is virtually no parking unless you would like to pay $20 or so per day. High rise apts, likely all condos, in NYC do NOT have parking facilities.

Wayne Kerr 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Exactly, I imagine with all the public transportation it wouldn't make a lot of sense to even own a car in NYC. I was trying to make the point that comparing Lawrence to NYC is dumb. Don't like the long lines, lack of parking, traffic, high property taxes, and corrupt city government in Lawrence? Just remember, if this was NY...

Mari Aubuchon 10 months, 2 weeks ago

You would think that Schumm, who has owned two restaurants, would realize that most of those who are working downtown and not making the big bucks are spending their entire work days on their feet.

So, essentially, when it comes to 9th and NH, it is take from workers and give to developers.

Mallory June 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks for your support, Mari! I agree that downtown employees should not be punished for development. The heart of the city should be our priority.

Mallory Liss

Garth Atchison 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Ask anyone who makes tips and has to walk to their car in the dark late at night, they need parking near where they work. Throw the workers a bone to help serve all the privileged that like to be entertained downtown.

Rick Masters 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Downtown is just for the privileged? Okie dokie.

Katie Dennis 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Yeah, I love how that never even seemed to come up in this conversation! For me, it was always a safety thing. And that's why time and again, those yellow tickets would pop up on my car because it was the afternoon, no free place to park, not easy to leave your job to go move your car/get the chalk off your tires and hope to find another spot, and then by closing time I'd have a ticket.

Leslie Swearingen 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I have rethought this whole parking thing. It has been brought to my attention that store clerks are on their feet for six hours or more and are very tired and really do need a close parking space. It seems to me that if you are going to work for someone they should be required to provide you with a parking space. I now think they should have floors on both parking garages dedicated to those who work downtown and someway to enforce this so that others cannot park there.

After all none of us could shop, eat or drink downtown unless there was someone to wait on us so we should give those people our thanks and help them out whenever we can.

Leslie

Mallory June 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks, Leslie! I assure you that we all appreciate your support and understanding.

Mallory Liss

Mallory June 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Hello All,

I just want to point out that my concern is not the walk from the Vermont Street parking garage. My main concerns are the cost of parking for employees and the limited amount of long-term spaces available. Many employees working downtown do not receive high incomes, which makes it difficult to save $192 just to pay for parking while at work. In addition, many employees accumulate a massive amount of parking tickets that add to the financial burden. My concern with the Vermont Street garage is not simply it's location, it is that it may only be temporarily free. In a Lawrence Journal World article from January 26th, 2014 it is stated that City Manager David Corliss, " ...might re-evaluate the free rooftop parking once the library project is open..." Which is now. Downtown employees may be able to park there for free today, but what about five years from now? If the free parking in the New Hampshire Street garage is being removed because of development, one can only reason that the free parking in the Vermont Street garage will eventually be taken away as well. I am thinking not only of current downtown employees, but also future employees. Parking cost for employees has been an issue for years and is openly talked about among them; my goal is for the city to support downtown employees by helping to alleviate this problem by providing downtown employees with either free or discounted annual or monthly parking passes with proof of employment.

As an introverted person it was not easy for me to be in an unfamiliar situation, in front of the City Commission, publicly speaking. Sheer nerves alone caused me to not explain the issue as thoroughly as I had hoped. This is why I made the petition; one person's voice is not nearly as powerful as hundreds. Downtown employees keep the heart of the city pumping, it is a reasonable request that the city provide them with discounted parking.

Mallory Liss

Wayne Kerr 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Mallory, thanks for bringing this problem to our attention. I think it would be great if downtown employees had a chance to buy a parking pass month to month at a reduced price to help alleviate this problem.

I think you are right to be concerned about free parking disappearing at the library. All it would take is another developer to put a high rise apartment building next door with 300 apartments and no parking garage to support it. A developer could save a lot of money by not building the necessary 3-4 million dollar parking garage and instead just buy 300 parking passes and tell the residents to park at the library. That's basically what happened with the NH garage, a garage that was supposed to be "the" incentive for developing NH street to mirror the shops and buildings on Mass. street. We didn't get the retail tax revenue the garage was supposed to generate, we didn't get the property tax revenue it should have generated, and we didn't get buildings that reflect the character and charm of Mass. street, either. Let's hope our city commission doesn't allow that happen again.

Mike Edson 10 months, 2 weeks ago

If I have to pay, then they have to pay. We are all in this together and life is just expensive.

Kristine Bailey 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Good work Mallory! There is a huge difference in the mind set of Shopping and Working downtown. As a shopper I Expect to walk to all the places. As an owner/worker I expect to get there ON TIME, and if I am dealing with customers, I will stay with them as my 5 hour meter expires. The current $50 habitual offender tickets target only employees, who are mostly minimum wage workers. They are there every day! Bringing Lawrence sales tax dollars. Oh, and businesses pay Very high property taxes. Do you have any numbers for how many employees are working in all the businesses in any given hour during the day, when meters and 2 hour parking is in force? It has to be hundreds!

Mallory June 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Great points. Downtown employees are without a doubt the number one group of habitual offenders getting $50 fines, which is why they city should work with them to solve this problem.

Mallory Liss

Kristine Bailey 10 months, 2 weeks ago

According to this article, we are losing money by paying the parking attendants to give us tickets, Really?

Staci Dark Simpson 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Just started working downtown and not enjoying the parking fees. Only been a week and already had to call the city due to a malfunctioning meter. Sure you could park and walk but I am a preschool teacher at a program downtown and often have boxes and bags of books and supplies that I don't want to carry a few blocks. I think employees downtown should catch a break. You wouldn't need parking control officers anymore and the police are down there anyway. I really don't mind walking but....I am often on the edge of late due to traffic construction and often have tons of stuff to carry, most of it can be ruined by rain. Just my thoughts.

Leslie Swearingen 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Staci, those who do not work downtown don't know what it is like. I know thinking about this has been an eye opener for me. Thank you for your comment. Obviously my first comment of taking the bus would not work for you. They might not even let you on the bus with the load that you have to transport. This is a classic, did not think this all the way though moment for some of us.

Cindy Wallace 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Lets talk about that parking garage on New Hampshire Street.....and how many spaces did you say the City gave Compton for his new apartments....oh yes, and how many of those spaces on the lower level are reserved for City Vehicles? You say spaces are becoming a "premium"?.....hmmmm.....

Cindy Wallace 10 months, 2 weeks ago

A comment about "Liquor Store vs. Grocery Store".... Rumor has it, that it is Doug Compton's plan to purchase the Borders building for a downtown liquor store. This article states that Compton is hopeful for a Grocery in one of his lower level floors on 9th and New Hampshire. Again, we, the citizens, are to set aside what we feel the needs are to appease the Big Developer for his wants in order to line his pockets some more. Who in this forum, really believes a Grocery store in Doug's new high-rise will be for the good of anyone but the tenants of his buildings? Sure, I can stop in possibly while shopping downtown, but certainly would/will not be a stop for my weekly grocery shopping.....and then there is this statement, which is more than sufficient to show who this commissioner would be pulling for, ".....Schumm said he wanted to be careful about deleting possible uses in the downtown area. As more people live in the downtown area, they’re likely to want convenience-based businesses, such as liquor stores....." Enough said.

Mark Kostner 10 months, 2 weeks ago

What's interesting is there was a grocery store on the Allen Press site years ago. Up to the early 70's there was an A&P store at 11th and Mass. If the Allen Press site is redeveloped and a grocery there, things will have gone full circle.

Dianne Bari 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I have worked in the downtown area for years. I took the bus up until last Nov. after giving birth to my baby in Sept. For anybody that thinks this is the answer, it isn't! First of all, I HAVE to drive to transport my child to and from daycare, in a car seat, in order to work. Not only that, but according to the bus schedule, some employees would either arrive downtown an hour early or late. And it's still a lengthy walk for some when considering to and from, lunch hour, etc. Especially for our senior citizens, and especially in extreme temps., ice, etc. Anyhow, we are not asking for free parking. We are asking for a reasonably priced monthly pass. We as employees are constantly having to feed meters to avoid getting ticketed and fined which seems outrageous being that we are simply WORKING. A $200 pass may not seem like much to some, but to employees like me that make a very modest living, it is quite a bit! The only parking ticket I've gotten was FIFTY-FIVE dollars, and to my understanding repeat offenders are made to pay around that much for 3 or more tickets... I'm willing to bet most of those "offenders" are employees who are busy helping downtown businesses flourish. Doesn't seem fair. I applaud Mallory Liss for starting a petition, something I suggested, and for being a voice for hundreds of employees who are outraged with the insensitive, absurd comments that have been made regarding this issue. Furthermore, as far as the new developments that are currently taking place, can someone please explain to me why that should affect employees' finances? I'll wait...

Lindsey Frye 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I think the city should be more worried about policing the under age drinking happening in night clubs on campus and not contributing to the problem by adding another liquor store. It's funny how the Westside gets a sports complex but the eastside is slated for a liquor store. As a member of the eastside of Lawrence I will fight to keep a liquor store from going in. Payday loans stores and liquor stores... They just want to kill the eastside huh?? Or more over give us a way to kill ourselves. NO NEW LIQUOR STORE. We already have enough. One just next door to Dillons on mass.

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