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Chamber: Free parking not so easy

The head of Evanston’s Chamber of Commerce says a mayoral candidate’s plan for free evening parking downtown is worth discussing — but he has several concerns about it.

Mayoral candidate Barnaby Dinges earlier today proposed that metered parking spots across the city be made free for Evanston residents with city vehicle stickers after 5 p.m.

Chamber Executive Director Jonathan Perman said he agrees with Dinges that parking issues downtown do grate on people and harm Evanston’s image.

"I’m glad he’s raising the issue," Perman said, "but it’s not as simple as he suggests."

Perman said he questions the idea of making parking free for residents, but still charging for visitors.

"We’re trying to make Evanston a destination city," to draw people in from other communities to shop and dine, he said, and it would likely turn visitors off to discriminate against them.

He noted that some museums in Chicago now charge out-of-town visitors more than Chicago residents. "I don’t find that to be tourism-friendly," Perman said.

Perman, who’s also a member of the city’s Parking Committee, added that part of the reason meter parking hours were extended to 9 p.m. downtown is that when the cutoff time was 6 p.m., restaurant employees coming in for an evening shift would park at a meter at 4 p.m., pay for two hours and tie up the meter the rest of the night.

"We ended up not having any meter parking available for business customers downtown," he said.

He said the Parking Committee has been looking at solutions to extend the meter limit from two hours to three hours in the evening — so that restaurant customers could linger longer over their dinners.

That plan has been at least temporarily stalled by the inability of most of the city’s meters to be adjusted for different time limits at different times of day, and uncertainty about what new parking meter technology solutions the city should invest in.

"The principle — to make downtown more business-friendly — is a great one," Perman said, but there also are financial considerations to face.

He said parking meter revenue, in addition to paying the cost of parking enforcement and producing revenue for the general fund, also helps pay off the bonds used to build the city’s downtown parking garages.

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