City and downtown development officials often say there is plenty of affordable parking in Dayton’s core, but they also admit that “solving for parking” must be a part of any redevelopment.
“We know parking’s a challenge and we continue to work with all of our partners to find a solution,” said Sandra Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “On any given workday there’s 21,100 people that work downtown, plus all of those people that are coming down, whether it is to visit your lawyer, or the courts, or to have lunch.”
The downtown business district has about 15,000 parking spaces, according to data provided by the Downtown Dayton Partnership. About 2,500 spaces are in parking lots, 1,300 at meters and 11,200 in garages. Meters are free at night and on weekends.
“Right now today, parking is probably as cheap as it’s ever been. I think there’s plenty of parking,” said Steve Budd, president of CityWide Development Corp.
But there is a disconnect in how downtown advocates and suburbanites define “cheap, plentiful parking.” What suburban office and retail complexes have that the city’s center doesn’t is all-day free parking. Dayton’s competition for office and retail development are suburbs — places like the Austin Boulevard interchange in southern Montgomery County or The Greene in Beavercreek.
Most of downtown’s parking meters, lots and garages cost money. The new credit card meters the city is adding to downtown cost 2 cents per minute, rather than 1 cent for the older, coin-only meters. The suburbs offer free, well-lit parking in close proximity to stores and restaurants.
“I bug Steve Budd every time I go down to meet him because it costs me $4 to go meet him for an hour,” said Bill Hibner, director of construction services for Oberer Thompson Company. “The first thing Dayton could do is give people free parking.”
Stephen D. Naas, president of CountyCorp, is afraid downtown will begin to lose more financial services companies such as Merrill Lynch, which in August announced it would consolidate its Dayton, Oakwood and Centerville operations at the Austin Boulevard interchange. He said customers may see driving into downtown as inconvenient and prefer driving to a brand-new facility in the suburbs and park for free.
“Why do they want to hassle with a parking meter and pull into a parking garage?” Naas said.
Dayton Mayor-elect Nan Whaley said her plan for the future calls for a study for ways to improve the parking situation downtown, perhaps modeling what other cities do and also expanding on what was done in the Oregon District to provide free parking to visitors.
Options that some cities use include parking validation — now practiced by some Dayton businesses on their own — or free, limited-duration municipal lot parking.
“There needs to be all kinds of efforts and it needs to be coordinated,” Whaley said. “We need to have partnerships with the private sector, because we don’t own the lots or the garages.”
She said one reason parking costs money at a meter is because it encourages turnover of customers, rather than having downtown workers monopolize the space.
Shelley Dickstein, Dayton’s assistant city manager for strategic development, argues that there is no “free parking” in commercial areas.
“In the suburbs, it’s rolled into rent, which gets passed along to consumers through the price of goods and services. Downtown, it’s just paid more directly at meters or garages,” Dickstein said.
“We believe that downtown parking rates are fair and reasonable for businesses and visitors alike.”
Asked if people coming downtown can then expect to get cut-rate prices on what they buy since they have to pay to park, Gudorf acknowledged that doesn’t happen. She said she understands frustration people may have with parking, even when they can drive around and find free spots at night and on weekends.
“That’s not good enough,” Gudorf said.