For more than 20 years, since Peter Clavelle’s tenure as mayor, anyone parking at Burlington’s city-owned downtown garages has been able to take advantage of two free hours. However, at the Queen City’s busiest garage, the two free hours are going away on New Year’s Day.
The first two hours at the Church Street Marketplace Garage will each cost a dollar. The other rates there will remain the same, including free parking every Sunday. There will be no change to the two free hours at the Lakeview Garage or the College Street Garage.
“Let’s face it, right? People are not psyched about losing their free parking down at the Marketplace Garage,” Commissioner Tiki Archambeau said at the Burlington Public Works Commission meeting where the pricing change was unanimously approved. “But I had someone reach out and I was explaining that actually, by taking away that free parking, it’s for better turnover at that garage. It’s actually for to conduct better business downtown, because the more turnover there is, the more business there is.”
It may even still be possible to park at the Marketplace Garage for free anyway in the event that you purchase something nearby.
“They’re working on having a merchant plan so that people that shop can actually get a voucher to get some free parking, but it’s based on having actual shopping experiences, so I think this is great,” Commissioner Solveig Overby said.
“And we’re also committed to finding a financially sustainable way to provide employee parking for retail and restaurant workers in the downtown, because that’s an ongoing challenge,” Burlington DPW assistant director for parking and traffic Jeff Padgett said.
There’s no question that a boost in parking revenue is a major reason for the pricing change. Padgett wrote in June that 80% of the drivers using the Marketplace Garage don’t pay a dime to park there because they stay for less than two hours.
Another argument in favor is that before the pandemic, the Marketplace Garage was often too full. “We’re not back to that yet,” Padgett said. “We’re only operating at 20-30% capacity right now.”
The ongoing COVID-19 recovery was one of the reasons why the originally proposed July 1 date for the pricing change has been pushed back to January 1.
As of this writing, the Burlington Business Association hadn’t replied to our requests for an interview regarding this story. Padgett has replied, but he wasn’t available Friday. We’re expecting to be able to speak with him for some more insight next week.