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Erik Burgess, Published January 31 2014

Fargo parking board OKs further study of four-hour zones downtown

FARGO – Hoping it might help relieve the squeeze of downtown parking, the Fargo Parking Commission pushed forward with a plan to study more four-hour on-street zones downtown Friday morning.

But with a series of big developments looming downtown, ready to gobble up hundreds of city spaces, it’ll take more than just longer on-street parking to solve the issues.

Planning Director Jim Gilmour said he’s expecting to lose 148 parking spots in the city’s Civic Center parking lot once Second Street flood wall construction begins. That could happen late summer or early fall, he said.

The city rents out 119 spots in that lot for daytime parkers, and all of those contracts will likely need to be terminated soon, Gilmour said. Spaces will continue to thin out once construction begins on a new City Hall on the north side of that lot later this year.

“It’s going to really put a lot of pressure on our parking system,” Gilmour said. “We don’t have a lot of good solutions right now. We’re looking at temporary parking, park and ride, other things that we can do to get people to still work downtown during this transition period.”

The commission also directed its Downtown Parking Task Force to study changing most 90-minute on-street parking restrictions east of Fifth Street to four-hour zones.

Parking Commission member Margie Bailly said she’s already talked to some residents who are concerned that longer on-street zones will mean downtown employees can park on the street all day.

That’s something the city has been working against for years and that was part of the reason the city switched to mostly 90-minute parking downtown over a decade ago.

According to city planning documents, on-street parking east of Fifth Street is severely underused. Most blocks have about a 50 percent or lower utilization rate. The block on the northwest corner of NP Avenue and Fourth Street is only 27 percent utilized.

“If they’re going to park on the street anyways, let’s put them in areas that are underutilized,” Gilmour said.

Once four-hour zones are in place, the Downtown Parking Task Force will be able to compare utilization rates to see how the longer time zones are faring.

“Even if we were to make some of these changes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re permanent,” said City Commissioner Mike Williams, who heads the Parking Commission.

The Parking Commission also discussed making changes to its Civic Center ramp, which is attached to the Radisson Hotel, following a parking snafu there a week ago when a well-attended morning conference at the hotel collided with the roughly 225 people that rent spaces during the day.

John Rogne, the contractor who oversees the city’s parking lots, said when the attendant arrived at 7 a.m., the ramp was already 70 percent full with a line of waiting cars.

“It was absolute chaos,” Rogne said.

The commission discussed renting out fewer spaces there, or adjusting the rules to not let people pay by the hour until later in the day.

Downtown parking issues are only further complicated by Rogne announcing his retirement. His Parking Services business has overseen Fargo’s parking lots and ramps for nearly 51 years.

The Parking Commission this morning extended Rogne’s contract through the end of this year, and also set the wheels in motion to find a new contractor by 2015.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518