Downtown Brainerd business owners say parking meters not welcome
“I think what we have right now is not full-blown revitalization. Certainly, I don’t think it’s where everybody wants it to be, but I think what we have right now is an ember. The ember is glowing, but it’s fragile," Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce President Matt Killian said.
Parking meters are a no-go in downtown Brainerd after business owners had their say.
During a nearly hour-long public comment period Monday, Dec. 6, several downtown landlords and business owners told the city council they do not support recent recommendations from the city’s parking commission, which included meters on Laurel and South Seventh streets.
Other recommendations — most of which were met with criticism — included a rate increase for city parking lots, downtown parking revenue going toward economic development efforts, landlords providing off-street parking for tenants and updating downtown kiosks for wayfinding.
The parking commission was established last year and formed to address parking-related concerns downtown.
Parking meters drew the most attention Monday night. A dozen people spoke about the recommendations, with only one having anything positive to say about parking meters and everyone else worrying about how their businesses would survive if they began charging customers to park nearby.
“Their biggest competitor right now is not each other; it’s convenience,” Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kilian said of downtown businesses. “So they’re competing against the convenience of online shopping. They’re competing against the convenience of national chains, national retailers, national restaurants, and so they don’t really want anything that would become a deterrent or an inhibitor to that convenient shopping experience. So they believe that parking meters would be a major deterrent to their customers, especially the ones that are just starting to explore downtown.”
Kilian said he was speaking on behalf of Big Jay’s Pizza Arcade, Bremer Bank, Bridge of Harmony, CatTale’s Books & Gifts, Coco Moon, Crow Wing Food Co-op, E.L. Menk Jewelers, Fancy Pants Chocolates, Loide Oil & Vinegars, Minnesota Makerspace, Pueringer Investments, Sage on Laurel, The Gallery and The Olde Open Window.
Kilian spoke of how far the downtown’s revitalization efforts have come in recent years and how fragile that progress is.
“I think what we have right now is not full-blown revitalization. Certainly, I don’t think it’s where everybody wants it to be, but I think what we have right now is an ember. The ember is glowing, but it’s fragile. So as we look at parking recommendations, especially parking meter implementation, I think it’s good to be prudent to do a ‘do no harm’ approach when you’re looking at recommendations tonight.”
"Their biggest competitor right now is not each other; it’s convenience."
— Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president
Sarah Hayden Shaw, owner of Sage of Laurel, said she thinks parking meters would end up costing the city more money than they bring in, and Becky Laplante of Pueringer Investments compared the area to downtown St. Cloud, where she no longer likes to go because of the hassle of parking meters.
Laplante also questioned where additional off-street parking could go if landlords were required to provide it for their tenants.
“As hard as they worked on this, I’m not sure if any of the proposals really work out,” Laplante said. “And I’m still trying to figure out what problem we’re trying to solve here. I don’t think there is a parking problem downtown.”
Ed Menk and Nila Patrick, owners of E.L. Menk Jewelers and VIP Weddings, respectfully, both remember decades ago when the city got rid of its parking meters downtown and said it was a positive move for business owners. Menk said it helped them compete with big box stores in Baxter and the Westgate Mall that was under development. Adding parking meters back, he said, would decrease downtown revenues.
“Let’s look at positive things we can do that will actually benefit: A, the property owners; B, the business owners; and C, the consumers,” Menk said. “And in doing so, we will see our property values go up, an increase in sales tax revenues and the value of properties within the city because it becomes the place to go.”
"I’m still trying to figure out what problem we’re trying to solve here. I don’t think there is a parking problem downtown."
— Becky Laplante, Pueringer Investments
Laura Bisted and Beth Workman both own stores on Front Street and said they were concerned parking meters on Laurel and South Seventh streets would drive people to take up more of the spots in front of their businesses and other surrounding streets instead. Workman, owner of Picture Perfect Framing Studio, said she would likely have to move her store if parking meters were implemented.
“Parking meters are universally despised,” she said, noting just the mention of parking meters would likely drive customers away.
Marie Kirsch, owner of Knotty Pine Bakery on Laurel Street, was the only speaker Monday to have anything positive to say about parking meters. The parking commission was tasked with a difficult job, trying to balance parking spots for customers, employees and tenants. While she would love free parking for her customers, Kirsch said she frequently sees downtown residential tenants taking up spots in front of her bakery, which is a problem that could be solved with meters.
“I see that was a difficult recommendation for them to make, but I’m generally in support of it just in the sense that I don’t see another solution,” she said, noting she understands the other concerns but doesn’t see any other practical solutions being proposed.
In reference to revamping the downtown kiosks, Menk said they were never taken care of to begin with when they went in in 2009 and some upkeep would be good. Lois Hensel, owner of Loide Oils & Vinegars, however, said that with today’s technology the kiosks are likely obsolete.
Other speakers, like Dave Pueringer of Pueringer Investments, questioned the use of downtown parking funds for economic development projects in the city, as that is something the whole city should pay for and not just those downtown.
Hensel and husband Steve added that, like Laplante, they don’t believe downtown necessarily has a parking problem.
Council response, action
“I find parking meters inherently unfriendly,” council member Dave Pritschet said, adding he could be amenable to the rest of the commission’s suggestions.
Council member Kevin Stunek said he felt parking meters would be a step backward.
"I don’t really like parking meters. I use them, though, because they’re usually located in places people want to go."
— Gabe Johnson, city council member
While not crazy about meters either, council member Mike O’Day said there was a lot more discussion that went on among the commission than just the eight bullet point items brought forward, and the parking meters were a small piece of a larger system.
Council member Gabe Johnson agreed, saying a lot of the other recommendations wouldn’t work without meters.
“I don’t really like parking meters. I use them, though, because they’re usually located in places people want to go,” Johnson said.
Seeing as how he was elected to represent voters, however, Johnson said he understands it is clear they do not want parking meters.
Mayor Dave Badeaux, who is a member of the parking commission, said he may not agree with all the recommendations but can assure the public that a lot of work and conversation went into them.
“We have some issues that need to be addressed, and I think that it is upon the council now to figure out how this works and how we fit these pieces together,” Badeaux said. “... So the issue at hand now is to take what we’ve got, take the advice of the public and act as stewards of the public’s interest.”
Council member Tad Erickson ultimately made a motion to send all but the parking meter recommendation back to the parking commission and allow them to respond to the public comment and tweak any suggestions as they see fit. The measure passed 3-2, with Stunek and Council President Kelly Bevans opposed and council member Tiffany Stenglein absent. Bevans voted against creating the parking commission in the first place, and Stunek said he believes any parking issues that exist downtown have been blown out of proportion.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .