Members of Evanston’s Parking Committee say they’re pleased with the results of an experiment in offering free parking in downtown garages during the holiday shopping season.

Transportation Division Director Rick Voss said garage usage during the promotion increased more than 5 percent compared with the same period last year.

He said that was a surprisingly good performance in a weak economy.

The program provided free parking from 5 p.m. until midnight on weekdays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.

The number of claim tickets issued dropped about 8 percent at the Maple Avenue garage and was down slightly at the Sherman Plaza garage, but more than doubled at the Church Street garage, the city’s smallest.

Voss blamed the Maple Avenue drop on the lack of blockbuster movies during the holiday season at the theater across the street from the garage. There was also speculation that events at the nearby First United Methodist Church may have contributed to the increase at the Church Street garage.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jonathan Perman said feedback from merchants about the experiment was very positive, and the plan “engendered a lot of good will between the city and merchants.”

Alderman Melissa Wynne suggested starting the promotion at Thanksgiving this year.

It ran only from Dec. 13 through Jan. 3 this season because of a late start in proposing the concept.

Voss said the promotion cost the city about $23,000 in lost parking revenue, slightly less than he had forecast.

Carolyn Dellutri, executive director of the downtown marketing group EvMark, said EvMark and the chamber could do more to promote the program if they knew it was going to be in place further ahead of time.

Parking Committee members agreed to raise the issue again in August or September.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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