FAIRBANKS — A garage that was touted as the answer to downtown Fairbanks’ parking problems when it opened nearly a decade ago is going largely unused.
It appears that downtown visitors prefer to ignore the garage and take advantage of the free, two-hour parking offered on all downtown city streets — even if it means moving their vehicles every two hours, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Monday.
The $8.3 million garage — officially known as the Downtown Transportation Center — opened in October 2002.
The presence of the five-level concrete structure comes as a surprise to some.
“I don’t even know where it’s at,” said Bruce Carter as he browsed through the coat selection at Big Ray’s. After being told it was directly across the street from the store, Carter said he doubts he will ever use the garage.
“I get parking right here close, and I don’t do a whole lot downtown,” said Carter, a coal miner from Healy.
A spot in the parking garage is relatively inexpensive for the occasional downtown visitor at $1 per hour, with a maximum of $10 per day. A monthly pass can be purchased for $85, while a yearly contract is $80 per month October through March, and $70 per month April through September.
Some employers buy parking spaces for their employees.
Big Ray’s employs about 30 people and provides each of them with a parking pass, according to sales floor supervisor J.R. Merritt.
“It’s great. It’s clean. The people over there, if you did have a problem, as long as it’s in their business hours, they’ll help you,” Merritt said. “I think it’s very convenient.”
Many downtown workers who don’t have employer-provided parking choose to risk getting a parking ticket in a game Mayor Jerry Cleworth calls “musical cars.” He said they just go out and move their cars every two hours and “hope they get there in time.”
It’s a game Jessie Pelzer, a barista at Alana’s Espresso Escape in the Co-op Plaza, knows well.
“I’ve done that — everyone here has done that,” Pelzer said. “Nobody who works here uses the garage, and there are five people who work here.”
Pelzer said she would never pay $70 or $80 a month for parking.
“I would rather park a little farther away and just walk in the cold, which on days where I know I’m going to be here all day, I do that, because I’m not going to move every two hours, all day. So I would just walk, not caring how cold it is. I’m just cheap,” Pelzer said.
Cleworth said the parking garage was financed with $2 million revenue bond and more than $6 million in state and federal funding. The city recently paid off the bond.
All money collected for parking in the garage is given to the city. The city then pays the Parking Authority $220,000 per year for operational expenses such as staffing and maintenance, and also pays for any large repairs as they might be needed, he said.
“It’s pretty much a break-even operation, at the usage it has now,” Cleworth said.
Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com