City of Steamboat Springs considering paid parking for downtown | SteamboatToday.com

City of Steamboat Springs considering paid parking for downtown

Cars drive down Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon. The city is looking into adding paid parking downtown for the first time.

— One of Steamboat Springs’ most enduring and passionate issues is slated to be back in the spotlight soon.

The city is looking into some alternative forms of parking management for downtown, including the implementation of paid parking.

The research comes after many downtown stakeholders and some members of the Steamboat Springs City Council have said it’s time to solve a parking problem they fear will only get worse when more visitors come to town.

"Downtown is changing. It’s talking about revitalization and wanting to get more people down there, and I think we need to do an analysis of what parking we have and then look at the possibility of paid parking," City Council member Walter Magill said Thursday.

City Manager Deb Hinsvark said the city hopes to have some proposals ready for the City Council to consider as soon as the spring.

"We have lots of opportunity here for improving our entire parking function with paid parking," Hinsvark said. "It can be an impediment to doing business when you have free parking."

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While she said paid parking appears to be the best solution at this point, all options will be considered by city staff in the coming weeks.

With a new parking system, the city will look to solve multiple problems.

One of the most pressing is that many prime storefront parking spaces on Lincoln Avenue continue to be taken by local employees.

The city has grappled with this problem since it was confirmed by a parking study more than a decade ago, and efforts so far have focused on educating the businesses about the value of the prime parking spaces.

City staff also will work to pre-empt any parking issues with the upcoming move of the Mainstreet Farmers Market to Yampa Street.

The event now will be primarily staged in the parking lot at Yampa and Seventh streets, and the city will have to find a way to ensure they won’t have to tow any cars that are left overnight in that parking lot, which is near several bars and taverns.

For many years, the specter of paid parking has loomed over Steamboat Springs.

The idea gets brought up almost every year, is met by a mix of reactions and then usually dies down.

But the research being done by city staff into paid parking is perhaps one of the most substantial steps toward a new form of parking management yet.

"With the downturn in the economy, there weren’t as many people here, not as many people were shopping, and there wasn’t as much demand for parking," Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said. "But as we move forward and we get busier again, we’re already seeing in the evenings you can’t find a parking place to go to a restaurant."

Barnett said the general public appears to be more accepting of paid parking than they have been in previous years.

Other downtown merchants have said at recent meetings that visitors even expect it.

The latest push to reform Steamboat’s parking system stems from a report from the Urban Land Institute that called Steamboat’s parking system “antiquated.”

In Colorado, Steamboat’s completely free downtown parking system appears to be unique for a mountain resort community.

Cities such as Aspen, Breckenridge and Telluride have parking meters and kiosks in downtown lots.

Many resort communities made the plunge more than a decade ago.

In Steamboat, some previous proposals to add paid parking have been met by fierce opposition by some downtown merchants who feared it would hurt business, not improve it.

Magill said paid parking is only one part of a broader discussion about fixing downtown parking.

"If there’s a whole lot of pushback from the merchants, I don’t want to shove it down their throats," he said. "However, when I go to other Colorado mountain towns, they have it."

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To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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