Broad Street parking

Downtown Rome. / Doug Walker

After months of deliberation and public input Rome's Downtown Development Authority has passed a new parking program on to the full city commission for approval. The plan creates free parking in all of the public decks downtown in exchange for paid parking on Broad Street.

The plan includes one hour of free parking on Broad Street as well as a two-month grace period once the plan is approved by the city commission and implemented.

The parking regulation plan calls for paid parking after the first hour from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Following the one hour of free parking, Broad Street parking would cost $1 for the next hour, $2 for the third hour and $5 per hour for the fourth hour on.

For example, if an employee wanted to parking on Broad Street in front the store from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., it would cost them $23 a day. On the other hand, a visitor could come downtown for lunch and do some shopping from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it would cost $3 —  or they could park in deck for free and walk the extra block or two.

The vote to pass the plan on the full commission was 4-2 with Connie Sams, Megan Watters, Bob Blumberg and David Prusakowski voting yes while Ballard Betz and Jay Shell voted no.

Betz said he would like to see the city move forward with use of license plate reader technology to enforce existing parking regulations and develop additional data regarding violators. Shell said he was anticipating specific details of a marketing plan to promote the changes prior to a vote being taken.

"This is a big deal and we've got to get it right," Shell said.

Commissioner Evie McNiece, who chairs the DDA Parking committee, said "we're a very progressive community, we like to think outside of the box, we like to do things that others are not doing, but we have parking backwards. beachfront property is free and then we have the off-street parking paid. It makes no sense."

The plan would convert 412 free on-street spaces to paid parking while converting more than 1,400 spaces in decks — at Third Avenue, Fourth Avenue and Sixth Avenue — into free parking.

DDA Chairman Bob Blumberg said the plan addresses several major issues they've heard from the public, including the complete elimination of the time limit for downtown parking and the creation of more free parking spaces.

The parking program is what the city refers to as an enterprise fund, McNiece said. Any revenue generated by the paid parking would be returned directly to the parking program and not the city's general fund. Money derived the kiosk and app based program would be used to enhance the program itself.

Safety in the parking decks is a key issue, McNiece said.

"We want to see them cleaner and better lit — which the county has already taken action on. We want to eventually have someone in the decks as an employee. As that happens and people are using the decks more often,  you have more eyes, more people and less opportunity for unwanted activity," she said.

She also said she would like to see programs available to explain how the technology driven parking kiosks will work.

"For some people it's going to be very easy to start with, for other people — like me — it's going to take some time to learn the system," McNiece said.

Blumberg said various departments within the city are already working on new signage to promote the free parking and directions to the decks. The Roman Chariot golf carts that help visitors get around downtown would also play an expanded role in helping move people from the decks to storefronts downtown.

A specific, stand-alone website to highlight parking opportunities downtown is also in the works.

Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson said it is possible the plan could be submitted to the city commission conceptually next Monday night.

However, since it involves an ordinance change the plan will have to go through the normal process of change — which would involve two readings and a public hearing, as well as another opportunity for public input — prior to final passage and implementation.