Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

City council approves free evening parking downtown, but only for one year.

Free parking could come to downtown Harrisburg this spring, as City Council tonight passed a resolution that would completely offset street parking costs after 5 p.m.

Council agreed unanimously to join Dauphin County and the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District (HDID) in ponying up money to offset parking revenues that operator Park Harrisburg would lose between 5 and 7 p.m.

“I think it’s a boost for the city,” Mayor Eric Papenfuse told reporters after the meeting. “I think it will lead to more people visiting downtown.”

Harrisburg’s contribution will amount to $110,000 over the next year. It will come from money that the parking system currently owes the city, said Papenfuse. The county has also pledged $110,000, and HDID will pay $50,000.

The county and HDID had hoped for a three-year deal, though council approved just a one-year test period.

Council members tonight reiterated their support for a deal that would help downtown businesses, but said that renewing it would depend on future spending priorities.

Council members Cornelius Johnson and Shamaine Daniels both said they only voted for the agreement because it would not draw down the general fund.

By entering into the “memorandum of understanding,” the three entities — the city, county, and Downtown Improvement District — must now finalize the exchange with the parking system operator. Papenfuse has said he expects no pushback, as the system operator, SP+/Park Harrisburg, and its asset manager, Trimont, want to ensure that contributions offset lost revenue, which, last year, amounted to $270,000 between 5 and 7 p.m.

Papenfuse said the parking subsidy could kick in as soon as April, but may take longer.

Since 2014, the city has tried several tactics to mitigate the cost of street parking. First, the Papenfuse administration convinced the system’s operators to lower the “happy hour” rate from $3 to $2 an hour between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. It later turned many of downtown’s loading zones into 15-minute free parking areas for quick stops.

Nonetheless, downtown bar and restaurant owners continue to complain about a loss of business, which they largely blame on high parking rates.

If implemented, the plan would come with some conditions. First, it would apply only to street, not garage, parking. Secondly, it would take effect only within the HDID boundaries, which run downtown from State to Chestnut streets.

City council tonight also approved a resolution allowing the city to hire a financial advisor. Marathon Strategies LLC, the firm selected through a competitive bidding process, will help the city renegotiate interest rates on some of its general obligation debt.

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