October 5, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Guinta squashes Saturday parking fees
By†Jody Reese

Mayor Frank Guintaís decision to put an end to any suggestion of parking fees on Saturday was right on.

Downtown doesnít have enough business to afford another set of fees.

The mayor rightly reasoned that parking fees on Saturday would discourage people from coming downtown to shop, eat and walk around. And Manchester needs that more than anything else.

Ever wonder why Manchester has no Banana Republic downtown like Burlington, Vermont, and Portsmouth have? Ever wonder why our downtown hasnít been inundated with Starbucks?

Itís simple. We donít have the people. Retail businesses, especially, the ones that would pay the high rents that would help pad our city coffers, need foot traffic. Without it, they will not come.

And unfortunately, Manchesterís downtown doesnít have the foot traffic to support retail or even over-caffeinated, over-priced coffees.

It would then seem reasonable that city government would work to bring people downtown, not discourage them. That is, for example, why Intown pays for a free concert series in Veterans Park and why the Manchester Jazz and Blues festival on Hanover Street is so important. It all builds traffic.

Adding parking fees Saturday goes against all that. Parking fees discourage people from coming downtown. No one likes to dig for quarters and no one likes a parking ticket.

The point of parking fees shouldnít be to fund the general tax fund. Fees should pay for the running of a traffic department that maintains orderly parking, including making sure that parking spaces are constantly turned over to help retail. Parking fees can also be used to support parking garages and signage to help people find parking.

It should never be a revenue generator for a city as it has become in Manchester.

The money raised from parking fees and fines comes at the cost of increasing foot traffic, meaning Manchester will never get a Banana Republic or movie theater downtown. To use an overused phrase, itís penny wise and pound foolish.

Airport parking spaces
My call last week for the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport to not build 2,500 parking space and to return that money to the city missed some important details, like facts.

As Manchester-Boston Airport Director Kevin Dillon pointed out to me, the airport canít return any of its surplus money to the city, just as no city property dollars go to support the airport. The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits that. The money must be used at the airport or given back to the airlines in form of lower passenger rates. Dillon said Manchesterís rates to these airlines are already much lower than other airportsí. He argues that the surplus should be used to prepare for future airport needs and he thinks buying land to one day build parking on is a smart investment.