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Funding the parking decks in Rochester

Rochester continues to grow and develop as a thriving city, and with that comes decisions for business owners and council that they didn't have to make when they were a smaller community. Included in those decisions is how to deal with the increasing need for parking, both for those coming into downtown, as well for those working there.

A few years ago, the city wisely determined that street parking and small parking lots were not sufficient to meet their growing need, and two municipal parking decks were built, with a special assessment district (SAD) imposed on property owners without adequate on-site parking. City council wisely persuaded the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to contribute to the cost – $50,000 helping to offset property owners contributions. This year's SAD was also offset by the DDA. The DDA's contribution makes sense, as these are the businesses that most benefit from the parking decks.

Now city council must take a hard look at funding after the final year of the SAD expires, and come to agreement on ways to increase revenue for operating and maintaining parking decks in the city as council approved the third and final year of the SAD.

First and foremost, council should recognize the benefits to the city the parking structures offer to the city, as Main Street continues to thrive and business and residential developments are continually proposed for Rochester. The parking decks offer a safe and affordable option for parking as Rochester progresses. Maintaining them, and having money in reserves, is a smart option. Further, while city council members said they don't want to use the parking decks as a means for generating revenue, the money produced from parking decks can help with other maintenance issues without tapping the general fund or going back to the public. Although generating revenue for the city isn't the key purpose for the parking decks, turning a profit will be necessary in the future as SAD funds expire.

Council has been pitched ideas to increase revenues, and many are strong proposals, including extending the hours of operation of the parking decks until 11 p.m. – when many of the restaurants are still open. Currently, the decks close at 9 p.m. The measure would generate about $14,000 more a year. Council, after speaking with the police chief about added enforcement, appeared to favor the option.

City council members appeared ready to reject a recommendation to increase monthly parking fees from $20 to $25 per month. The increase would generate about $36,000 in additional revenue a year. A $5-a month increase is a reasonable request, particularly when permits are currently $20 per month, a rate that is lower than that of other similar communities, such as Birmingham and Detroit.

Additional ideas being considered include charging for parking on Sundays; reducing the one-hour of free parking time; and charging for parking in the city's farmer's market lot. While we don't agree with all of these, we agree they should be open for discussion. The city must do more than look to the DDA to continue to offset parking costs.

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