By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – After a public hearing in which the audience mostly opposed proposals for paid streetside parking, aldermen nevertheless authorized negotiating a contract to manage that effort.
The Downtown Parking Committee (now Commission) began work on the issue in 2010. Its recommendation is to hire Standard Parking, which operates in more than 300 U.S. cities, to manage fee-based parking on the Square and a few nearby blocks.
“Free parking sometimes creates more problems than it solves in terms of being equitable, giving everybody a chance,” said commission member Ron Hipp.
Mayor Pat Patterson said one aim would be to encourage downtown employees to leave storefront spaces for diners, shoppers and other visitors.
“We have 700 spaces in the (central business district) and 600 employees,” Patterson said. “That speaks to the problem right there.”
Under the proposal, drivers would pay $1 per hour for downtown parking. Some critics say a two-hour limit is too little time for dining or shopping. One bank officer noted that the daily deposits many of his customers make require only a five-minute stop, for which a dollar would be unreasonable.
Commissioners also propose free handicapped parking, but Jack McKenzie said University of Mississippi students, among others, would game the system.
“If you allow free parking to anyone with a handicap placard, you’re going to have SUVs with placards taking up spaces all day,” he said.
Dr. Bill Baker predicted cars deflected from the Square would end up on narrow nearby residential streets.
“We’ll have to aggressively enforce there,” Patterson said.
Businessman Will Lewis said surplus revenue from managed parking should offset taxes for downtown properties, whose assessments he said are skewed by out-of-town speculators.
Patterson said he hoped paid parking would help Oxford motorists reorder their aversion to walking a block or two.