For many years past, the city has made parking in Marine Park Garage free for the month of December — but not this year.
Last year, when the new Downtown Transportation Center opened, it also was free in December. Both garages also were free in January because the new metered parking system was still going into place.
This year patrons of the garages will have to pay for December, just like any other month.
It isn’t clear exactly how many years the city has agreed to offer free parking from Thanksgiving to Dec. 31, but in 1998 the Assembly approved Marine Park Garage and “Egan Shoppers Lot” for that price with time limitations. Public testimony from that time indicated the parking offering for holiday shopping started two years prior.
“With our new parking system in which you buy a permit to park in the garage, one, it would be pretty difficult to provide free parking when people have already bought permits,” said City Manager Rod Swope.
The other reason for the change is because of the two-hour free on-street parking. That change was implemented with the new meters and Swope believes that’s sufficient for people looking to shop downtown for the holiday season.
Garages remain free during weekends and holidays, Swope added.
“In the past, with limited amount of time you could park on the streets, it opened it up to encourage people to come down and shop,” he said. “With two hours free parking anywhere in the city with another new garage that’s very inexpensive to park in, we decided to keep things the way they are, particularly given people who have already purchased permits. If we had it for free, I imagine they would want refunds.”
Swope said gaining back funds spent on building the new transportation center was not the reason for the change.
The bus area in Marine Park also was traditionally opened for free parking in winter. This year, the area remains closed off and unmaintained.
“I think there was maintenance and cost to plowing it and maintaining it,” Swope said. “With the new parking garage and existing old garage, there is plenty of parking available for people to come and use. Why should we open up a little lot for free, particularly when there’s a lot of cost to maintaining that?”
Jim Dillon, owner of Hy Tech, is not pleased with parking downtown.
Dillon said the downtown merchants are running out of safe, free areas to use. He alleges the state isn’t maintaining the freeport lot in front of the Coast Guard, the state has blocked off public parking in the Willoughby lot and now the city isn’t offering December free in the season of holiday shopping.
“What’s ironic is the two-hour downtown parking has been a real success,” Dillon said. “People come down here for just two hours. But it doesn’t help the people who work here. We’re still stuck with absolutely no place to park for more than two hours.”
City data on user downtown parking users shows decreasing numbers for people using garages. For Marine Park Garage, that looks like 30-40 percent occupancy in December and January last year. The Downtown Transportation Center garage had about 80-90 percent occupancy rates last year during those months.
When Dillon was asked why he was opposed to paying for parking, he said: “It’s a Juneau tradition. There is a reason why this is the last civilized place on the planet to not have parking meters.”
Dillon said merchants should be able to have a safe place to park without having to go on a major arctic trek.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.