After more than 30 years of cajoling, pleading with and sometimes fighting City Hall, Tom Magers is ready to see Davenport's parking meters ripped out of the concrete.
Metal saws and cutting torches could be attacking the 1,200 or so downtown meters by early summer if the Davenport City Council follows through on a plan to eliminate parking meters in the central city.
A motion on next week's council agenda directs the city administration to remove all on-street parking meters downtown, increase monthly fees in the city-owned parking ramps by $5 and prepare an ordinance that will increase parking ticket fines through a sliding scale. A first violation would cost $20, jumping to $40 for a second and $50 for three or more violations for parking beyond the two-hour free limit.
Magers - whose family has owned and operated Major Art and Hobby on 2nd Street since the 1950s - is willing to speed up the process he's been lobbying for.
"I'd be happy to chain them to my truck and pull them down myself," he said.
The meter issue was at the center of a lengthy and animated budget discussion earlier this winter. Free parking downtown - which was instituted as a pilot program in late 2009 - exacerbated a revenue problem facing the parking program.
Between lost meter revenue, fewer people leasing ramp spaces because they can park on the street for free and fewer tickets being issued for overtime parking, the city is bringing in a half-million dollars less in parking revenue. Meanwhile, the city owes $600,000 on the general obligation bonds it issued to construct the ramps, with those payments continuing for another 11 years.
Some aldermen thought it seemed counter-intuitive to lose the revenue stream from the meters permanently given those circumstances, but a majority were swayed by downtown merchants and others who said long-term growth has been stunted by the parking policy. Without the parking fee impediment, they argued, more people will shop, eat, visit and choose to open businesses in downtown, creating more tax revenue for the city.
The Downtown Partnership - which is an arm of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce - chipped in $100,000 toward the meter removal. The money comes from the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District, a self-taxed fund created by downtown business owners in 1995 used for capital projects and operations.
"I think it's appropriate for the partnership to take part in any downtown beautification project," said Tom Flaherty, executive vice president of the partnership. "The parking meters aren't very attractive, let alone good for business."
City Administrator Craig Malin said the cost to remove the meters is expected to be between $60,000 and $80,000. Filling in the holes left from the posts - with decorative bricks in streetscaped parts of downtown and concrete patches elsewhere - coupled with new signs indicating the two-hour limit, will bump the cost to $100,000.
Malin said discussion is still ongoing on what to do with the defunct meters. At least 500 will be sold through various methods.
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"We'll also try to find some other city that wants lightly used meters and is interested in killing their downtown," he quipped.
Eric West, the city's parking supervisor, said enforcing the two-hour limit likely won't change much. The current ordinance allows people to be parked for only 120 minutes on any "block face" - defined as the two parallel sides of any given block.
"Having meters there doesn't really make a difference," he said. "We use hand-held devices and keep track of the vehicles on a block face. The particular space they are in doesn't really matter."
Magers said business in his corner of downtown has picked up considerably since the free parking program started. He thinks it will get even better without the meters, even though they now are bagged.
They still serve as a symbolic barrier, he said.
"The meters themselves are the problem for some people," he said "The whole appearance will be better now."