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The only “free parking” is in Monopoly

Free ParkingWhen we used to play Monopoly at my house growing up, not only did landing on Free Parking mean you didn’t land on someone’s hotel on St. James Place, it also meant a windfall of cash, since any Chance or Community Chest fees went into the “kitty” and were awarded to the next person to land on “Free Parking.”

But in the real world, there’s no such thing as free parking, and there is no windfall of cash, either. Gary Sandberg explained it best on Tuesday’s Outside the Horseshoe program on WCBU.  Someone is always paying for parking, even in the suburbs.  The only difference between downtown parking and suburban parking is who’s paying.

Those huge surface lots out by, say, the Shoppes at Grand Prairie, didn’t just descend from the sky.  Somebody bought the land, somebody built the lot, somebody maintains the lot — and that all costs money.  At the Shoppes, or Metro Centre, or Northwoods, or Sheridan Village, the business owners pay for it.  It’s part of their rent structure.  The patrons don’t have to pay (directly) for parking because the business owners have decided to provide “free” parking for their customers.

Now let’s go downtown.  Who owns the land, builds the decks/lots, and maintains them?  For much of downtown, it’s the city.  Can businesses downtown provide free parking for their patrons?  Sure!  All they need to do is work out an arrangement where they validate parking tickets from a nearby city-owned deck or lot.  Then the business pays the city instead of the customer.

But why is the city providing parking (other than street parking) at all?  The city doesn’t build lots or decks in the suburbs for any of the businesses out there.  They didn’t build decks or lots downtown until about thirty years ago.  Before then, downtown developers had to build and maintain their own parking structures.  Remember Sears?  They had their own on-site parking.  Bergners?  Carsons?  The city didn’t provide parking for these businesses.

So, it will be nice having free two-hour parking on the riverfront now, but one has to wonder why the city is providing “free” parking to some businesses and not others.  When Gary Sandberg says the city should get out of the parking business, I think he may be on to something.  If the city sold all their decks and lots (which are not making the city any money), they could get a tidy influx of cash and no longer have the maintenance headaches.

Then businesses downtown would be on an even playing field with the suburbs as far as parking goes, and the city could focus on providing other, more essential services.

1 comment to The only “free parking” is in Monopoly

  • cgiselle12

    Indeed, there is a great deal of validity to this idea. God knows there’s always extra parking downtown.
    But, could you also look at it this way: the fact that there is free parking downtown helps bring more people downtown. Something we so desperately need – people, that is, in downtown.
    I come from the NYC area and I loathe parking. I loathe paying for it even more, holding memories of $20 for three hours of parking. Akin to Chicago. I know I’m not alone, since many folks around here hate parking in Chicago just as much.
    There is something to be said for free parking provided by the city in key locations. It will help bring people/tourists to downtown. But since there is such a massive glut of parking – why not sell a bunch, but not all, of the city owned parking decks. Maybe a developer will build some much needed affordable housing down there – so the damn place doesn’t die after 5pm like it does now.