At 4 p.m. today, one of the main parking lots in the Oregon Historic District will cease to be free for the first time in many years — a decision that has divided public opinion on whether the change will hurt local businesses.
The groups that own the lot say the fees will pay for better maintenance, upgrades and security and supervision to help eliminate the “riffraff” who hang out in or by their cars in the lot to drink and carry on.
They also say the fees will open up more parking spaces for customers because people who work in the district will search for other places to park.
But some citizens on social media and other business owners have been very critical of the change, calling it “foolish” and a “big mistake” that will deter people from patronizing the district.
The Oregon District’s community parking lot, at the southwestern end of the business district on East Fifth Street will begin charging $3 to park between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m. every day.
People who park in any of the 140 public spaces will be required to feed money into a pay station or make a payment on the Passport Parking App.
Failing to pay the fee will result in a fine. Repeat offenders risk being towed.
Four pay machines have been installed at the property, which is located by Omega Music, Oregon Express, Thai 9 and Jay’s Seafood.
The lot was rebuilt in 2008 and has been free to visitors since that time. In the last year, other parking lots north of Fifth Street have gone to pay systems.
The parking fees will help pay for additional lighting, landscaping upgrades and for the services of a professional parking authority to monitor and enforce the new regulations, officials said.
Other lots in the Oregon District have gone to pay systems, and as a result, large numbers of people have migrated to the free lot, including most people who work in the district, said Amy Haverstick, owner of Jay’s Seafood.
About 40 percent of the lot is occupied by employees of Oregon District businesses, which leaves too few spots for customers of Jay’s and other restaurants, Haverstick said.
Jay’s depends heavily on the lot for parking close to the business.
“I’ve had many guests call, while they are driving around looking for parking, to cancel their reservations because they can’t find parking, Haverstick said.
A $3 parking fee is not going to stop people from visiting a thriving entertainment area, full of unique and independent businesses, she said.
Jay’s will validate the parking of customers who spend $30 or more during their visits.
But Alex Staiger, the owner of Omega Music, has strongly opposed going to a paid system for years and will keep Omega’s spaces in the lot free.
Staiger said district visitors may be willing to pay $3 to eat, drink and meet friends for a night out on the town.
But, he said, people are not willing to pay to park to shop at a retail store like his, which sells records, CDs, movies and other items.
“What is stopping them from going to The Greene, the mall or Amazon?” he said. “We’re already fighting to get them in the doors.”
The city has welcomed a bunch of new housing in the area and needs to construct a new parking garage or new lots to handle the increases in traffic, Staiger said.
The switch over to paid parking is going to lead to less foot traffic for retailers in the district, he said.
“For sure it will hurt retail — it’s never good for retail — which is why we didn’t want to be a part of it,” he said.