- Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

There is a plan to close the Downtown Improvement Area (DIA) office, eliminate its staff and give three-quarters of the money its members pay  to the City of Owen Sound to pay for snow removal, parking enforcement and lot maintenance. The plan is being sold as essential to providing free parking in the city.  Here are some of the myths we've heard through this process.

parkingsign1 “The public said they wanted it.”   Actually, the only real study that was done indicated that what people wanted was consistency in downtown parking. Inflexible and overzealous enforcement, incomprehensible signage, old parking technology with few options, fairness for all businesses whereever they're located - these were the issues raised.  As recently as September the Downtown Improvement Area (DIA) board appeared willing to put thought, research and discussion into these matters.

Noone in the study suggested they wanted to trade the DIA office or staffing for free parking. (At least not in any part of the report that was released to the public.)

 2 “Everybody else is doing it.”   Comparisons have been made at meetings to other communities – not always accurately. Orillia has off-street pay-and-display lots with minimum purchases of 15 minutes for .25. Just this summer they ended free parking on two municipal properties at the recommendation of the Parking Committee for their BIA . On-street parking is metered at $1.25 per hour with a two hour maximum.
Collingwood has paid parking throughout their downtown at both meters and municipal lots – and has a busy and prosperous downtown that many Owen Sounders praise. 

Those communities that do offer free-to-the-user parking downtown – Hanover, Orangeville, Saugeen Shores: all of them are paid for out of general property tax revenue.

As Kay Matthews, Executive Director of the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) said, paying the City's expenses with the DIA's own money would be unprecedented.

3 “There would be fewer vacant stores if parking were free”.   We have been running a real-time experiment on the merits of free marketsideemptyparking since the Big Dig in 2000. Based on empirical data, there are at least as many downtown vacancies today as there were when that huge renovation was over. More interestingly, there are more commercial vacancies on the one street that has “complimentary” parking - 2nd Avenue East – than on 10th Street East (with no customer parking) or 8th and 9th Streets and 3rd Avenue, where there are meters and stringent enforcement.

4 “The businesses benefit, so they should pay”.   If free parking were the key to commercial success, turnover on 2nd Avenue would be zero. Sadly, that's not the case. And whatever benefit there may be is not shared equally. Companies with large staffs and the landlord with hundreds of residential tenants stand to gain the most. Those businesses on 10th Street with no parking at all may well find themselves no better off when the paid lot behind them is filled all day with the employees of their neighbours – and piles of snow.
Many downtown businesses are small and family owned and two years without the 10th Street bridge will put their viability at risk.

If the commercial taxes in downtown Owen Sound are not enough to buy the services that every other resident of the City has a right to expect, including snow removal, paved parking lots, and enforcement of restricted parking areas – then taxation is inadequate.

Fair, consistent parking – paid or complimentary – is crucial to the healthy downtown the City claims it supports. Turning the levy businesses pay over and above their taxes into a revenue line item for the City is not the way to pay for it. 

The meeting Wednesday, November 21 at 7 p.m. at the Harry Lumley Bayshore is open to the public.  Only DIA members have a vote on the proposal.

Myth #5 - "You get money if you land on Free Parking in Monopoly." Not according to the official rules.


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