The DDA approved the plan in May and the City Commission signed off on proposed downtown parking plan one week later, but Commissioner Evie McNiece, who leads the DDA Parking committee, said it was her intent all along to move deliberately with the actual implementation of the plan. Phase One will include new signage to help direct people to available off-street parking, along with the purchase of license plate reader technology to enforce the existing time-limit parking regulations.
The DDA will then collect new data using the LPR technology and take some time to digest that data before implementing the second phase of the program.
"We'll be able to compare the new numbers to the 2010 numbers," said Downtown Parking Manager Becky Smyth.
Blumberg said the data staff will be looking for includes who is parking downtown, how long they are parking, who the frequent violators are, what the busiest times of the day are, are people shifting into the decks and so on.
DDA Design committee Chairwoman Megan Watters showed off art for the new signage that will be going up at approximately 18-20 intersections that will help direct motorists to off-street parking.
The second phase would include the possible change to paid parking for the premium spaces on Broad Street, coupled with free access to the parking decks.
DDA board member Ballard Betz told the authority Thursday that they needed to be prepared to answer the question, "Is phase two a done deal or will it be based on data?"
"We plan to do the right thing," said DDA Chairman Bob Blumberg. McNiece said while the city would certainly examine the data, it would also have to consider projections for the future of downtown Rome.
The downtown district has changed considerably since the last major data collection was done in 2010, according to Smyth. There has been much greater emphasis on the creation of residential spaces in the lofts of the downtown businesses, which has brought a lot more people to downtown and that number continues to rise.
"We need X amount of parking," Blumberg said. "Most cities for every thousand square feet of space you have to have one parking space. You think about Broad Street, we have hundreds of thousands of square feet of space and nowhere near the parking we're supposed to have."
Phase Two of the plan that was adopted in May includes an hour of free parking on Broad Street, $1 for the second hour, $2 for the third hour and $5 per hour from the fourth hour on. It would open up more than 1,400 spaces in the decks to completely free parking.
Downtown Development Director Amanda Carter said the city was prepared to issue a formal request for proposals from companies that manufacture or sell the LPR technology.
"We're going to try to expedite that," Smyth said. Even after proposals are received, Smyth estimated it would take at least 90 days after a contract is signed to get the equipment in and get the system running. Betz asked how long Smyth felt like the city needed to collect data before considering a move to implement Phase Two and Smyth estimated 6-12 months.
The authority said Floyd County officials had expressed some concerns about space for juror and employee parking in the Sixth Avenue deck in the event that the decks were made free and available to the public in the future. Smyth said that there has been a lot of court activity in the past two weeks and her enforcement unit had been conducting surveys of utilization of that deck.
"We've had 50-60 spaces available after all the jurors (were accounted for) just about every day," Smyth said. Public employees who work at the joint law enforcement center and both the historic and new courthouses all park in the Sixth Avenue deck. Smyth said some county officials had suggested that free use of the decks also be phased in as well, with the Third Avenue deck starting first.
Blumberg said another aspect of the parking program that still has to be tweaked involves where downtown employees will park. Half of the fourth floor of the Third Avenue deck is earmarked for downtown business employee parking.
"Right now we have 60 permits for the fourth floor, but if you go up to the fourth floor at any time of the day there are no more than 10 to 12 cars because of the shifts," Blumberg said.
In June the downtown parking decks generated a little more than $6,900 in revenue. The DDA has close to 450 monthly leases for space in those decks. Last year, revenue from the decks amounted to approximately $192,000.
The DDA also manages parking in four surface lots which generated approximately $35,600 in revenue during 2017.
Betz told the authority that he applauded the effort to slow-walk any major changes to the parking program and said it sends a message out to those who opposed it that the city is listening to them.
"We never intended to throw this down anyone's throat," McNiece said.
Blumberg added that all anyone saw during discussions leading to the city's adoption of the proposed plan was the high-tech parking meters and the paid parking on Broad Street. He also recalled the plan included an hour of free parking.