The Keene Downtown Group wants city councilors to consider making parking free in the mornings.
The group’s president, Mark Rebillard, and board member Roger Weinreich sent Mayor Kendall W. Lane and the City Council a letter Oct. 30 asking for the establishment of a free parking program from 8 to 11 a.m. on Main Street and in the downtown area.
Rebillard said Friday morning the proposal is “a matter of a starting point” to begin talking about the idea.
As of now, parking fees in Keene are enforced Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The City Council voted unanimously at its meeting Thursday to refer the request to its finance, organization and personnel committee, which is the standard first step in the council process. That committee convenes next Thursday, Nov. 14, at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, and members of the public can provide input at that session.
The Keene Downtown Group is a nonprofit membership organization focused on the vitality of the Main Street area.
In the letter, the downtown group offers to partner with the city’s parking department to develop the parameters of the free parking program and later implement it. The goal is to increase downtown business and social activity by inviting people to visit Main Street in the mornings, according to the letter.
“At this time there appears to be an abundance of open parking spaces along Main Street in the morning,” the letter continues. “Parking revenue for this period has likely diminished and this is an excellent time to try some new ideas.”
According to the city budget, parking revenue has declined each of the past two fiscal years.
Under the group’s proposal, the parking department would determine the program’s feasibility, footprint and duration, and the initiative could be evaluated, adjusted or terminated if it’s unsustainable or doesn’t “achieve the desired results.”
On-street meters cost 85 cents per hour, and off-street meters, such as those in the Gilbo Avenue lot, are 35 cents per hour. These prices went up at the beginning of this year, the first increase since November 2015. Before that, parking fees hadn’t changed since 2002.
Meter fees, along with parking-space rentals and fines, go to the city’s parking fund, which is used to enforce regulations and maintain parking areas and facilities. In the 2019-20 operating budget released earlier this year, the city estimated the parking fund earned about $1.88 million in the prior year.