Will downtown parking meters moonlight? Don't count on it.

"For someone to suggest that the changes in rates or hours of operation is money-driven, or that regulation of valet operations is money-driven, is not based in fact. Period. The reason to adjust rates is to complement adjacent land uses, and that's the only reason to deal with that. If there's some lagniappe there, it's there, but that's not the reason we're looking at it. We have not even tried to prepare any [revenue] estimates on that." Any additional revenues, according to Lewis, would go where all present meter revenues and parking meter fines go: to the city's general fund.

To hear proponents tell it, the proposal is all about curb turnover. Jamie Mize, co-owner of Treebeards and co-author of the original petition, favors extended meter hours, with a two-hour maximum stay.

"If you allow somebody to show up at six and plug the meter for four hours, you've missed the entire point. If you're going to come down and spend an evening downtown, you're encouraged to use a lot or a garage instead of a meter, and save the meters for the neighbors who need that early-evening turnover."

Free night curbside parking has prompted another downtown fight.
Deron Neblett
Free night curbside parking has prompted another downtown fight.

As an example Mize cited Prairie Street, where there are two art galleries that stay open until the early evening. He says employees of downtown establishments park in metered spaces shortly before their 5 p.m. shifts. "All they have to do is plug the meter until six o'clock and they're home free."

Tasca's Refaey, though, thinks any benefit in curbside turnover will be offset by negative impressions generated by pay parking, and continues to think that the lure of increased revenues is behind the move.

"What they're doing is really a bait and switch," Refaey says. He says the valet ordinance is a "smokescreen" to divert the concerns of restaurant operators to the proposal for the high rates. "So they drew attention to this, trying to quickly ram through the parking meter side, which is where the revenue source is," Refaey says. "Now this is all theory, but it's probably fairly accurate."

Just how all the issues will settle into final ordinances, if any, remains to be seen. A Council committee plans to announce dates shortly for two separate public hearings on the proposed ordinances. All sides give lip service to the idea of eventual adjustments, compromises and agreements.

Privately, though, opponents say they expect at least the parking meter expansion to die in committee.

And Richard Lewis admits that if the public hearings return a resounding no to the plans, the city will drop the matter.

"We do not intend to go forward with either of these unless there is strong neighborhood support in the affected areas." If there's not, it'll be dead in the water, he says. "And six months from now, when the ballpark opens and there's no parking spaces in the evenings during games for people that want to go to a bar and drink or whatever Š they're going to be down here beating on us, saying, 'Do something about this.' And then we'll look at it again."

That warning was made by Lewis even more explicitly in a letter he wrote in response to Refaey's opposition: "Changes in on-street parking regulations are probably inevitable if we are to attain the ambiance of New Orleans' French Quarter or San Antonio's River Walk in our 'North End.' "

By the way, the Downtown Management District's own survey shows San Antonio doesn't charge for metered parking after 6 p.m. Neither does New Orleans.

E-mail Brad Tyer at

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