After much discussion — including criticism from Mayor Charles Sammarone about the time taken to make a decision — city council agreed to install 19 pay parking meters on a section of West Federal Street.
At Wednesday’s council finance committee meeting, held just before a council meeting, members asked why paid meters are needed on West Federal between Phelps and Market streets with the city-owned 20 Federal Place building in the heart of the location.
The decision by the administration to ask council’s approval of the meters came in reaction to complaints from downtown business owners that local workers were taking the parking space away from their customers.
Councilmen Paul Drennen, D-5th, and Mike Ray, D-4th, said better enforcement of downtown parking is needed more than the meters. The new meters would restrict vehicular parking in that area to an hour and cost $1 for that hour, but would be free after 5 p.m. on weekdays, and all day on weekends.
Currently the spots are free for up to two hours. But city officials and local business owners say employees working downtown park in the area and move every two hours to avoid getting tickets.
Sammarone explained the situation, but council members continued to ask questions.
Finally, Sammarone said he lost his patience.
“The thing that’s confusing is we have very important issues on the agenda, and we’re spending time on parking meters,” he said. “I’ve never heard so many questions about putting in parking meters.”
After the meeting, Sammarone said of council members that “there’s talk of millions of dollars [in budget hearings] and no questions are asked. I encourage council to ask questions, but not the same ones over and over again.”
Council approved installing the meters, which should be in place in a couple of weeks.
While no one said employees of VXI Global Solutions, a call-center at 20 Federal Place, were the main culprits of moving cars every two hours, some council members implied it.
“We need better enforcement of employees of 20 Federal Place; they have free parking at the Covelli Centre,” Drennen said.
VXI is the only company that receives free parking at the center from the city.
Interestingly, the next topic of discussion was extending a deal to bus VXI employees to and from the city-owned center’s parking lot and the company’s office space.
Council agreed to spend up to $60,000 through the rest of this year to pay for the VXI employees shuttle bus.
VXI employs about 625 people downtown, and the shuttle bus, in place since October, transports about 50 to 60 employees a day, said Sean T. McKinney, commissioner of the city’s buildings and grounds.
As part of an incentive to get VXI to come downtown, the city agreed to provide free parking for the company’s employees.
Between May and October 2011, VXI employees parked at a nearby deck with the company reducing its monthly rent to the city by $15,750, what would be $189,000 annually, to cover that cost.
Because the city owns the Covelli Centre, parking for VXI employees doesn’t cost anything. The shuttle-bus plan will save the city at least $140,000 for the rest of this year.