Free parking scheme hopes to attract core shoppers

What’s free but could cost at least $160,000?

That’s an estimate for a free parking proposal designed to help struggling downtown stores cope a retail slump combined with ongoing construction chaos, closed roads and detours caused by Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The plan, still a work in progress, is the shared brainchild of Kitchener’s downtown Business Improvement Association and city staff. It is scheduled for discussion by council in November following discussions that took place in October.

The proposal, involves taxpayers enjoying increased evening and weekend parking provided free at city parking garages. Those privileges would remain in place until the behind-schedule LRT starts running in 2017. For years, the city has provided free parking on Sundays and three hours of subsidized parking between 6 and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The new proposal would add free parking between 5 and 6 p.m.

Kitchener is already providing subsidized parking in the core that has cost about $222,528 this year and the cost of increased free parking would add about $160,000 to that bill.

Speaking as a downtown councillor, I’m not sure free parking alone will attract a dramatic increase of shoppers back to the core but it could certainly help during early evenings and Saturdays. And I’m very much in favour of anything that provides relief for our remaining core retailers.

In addition to parking, I also believe we need to do more to have a variety of social agenc ies – not just police – address the ongoing issue of street people in the core suffering from addictions and mental illness that help scare shoppers away from the downtown. We also need to do much more to clean up our streets with additional, and expensive, pressure washing to make the core more attractive to visitors and shoppers.

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