Changes considered for free holiday parking in Beaufort

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 26, 2011 

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The city of Beaufort might wrap its presents a bit differently this year -- and be a little less giving.

Officials are planning to continue the annual tradition of offering visitors two free hours of parking downtown on and near Bay Street.

But instead of covering parking meters with bags, they are considering bows and signs. They're also considering reducing the length of the meter amnesty by a week, cutting out Christmas to New Years.

Removing the bags would allow people to park longer than two hours, as long as they feed the meters. In previous years, people could get tickets if they parked longer than two hours in one spot or would have to move their vehicles if they were still shopping, eating or touring the area.

The city is still working out details.

Some council members were confused by a presentation during a work session Tuesday and worried downtown patrons would be, too.

"Well, if we don't understand it, then how is the guy driving down Bay Street to get his wife a gift really going to understand it?" Councilman George O'Kelley asked.

The free-parking period could also be reduced a week. Instead of running from Thanksgiving to New Years, it would end after Christmas. Last year, the city had to pay about $6,800 to cover expenses for monitoring parking spots during the free period.

During an average month, about $34,742 is collected from meters, which cost about $21,165 to operate, according to a report from Lanier Parking Meter Services LLC, the city's parking-enforcement contractor. Revenue goes to the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission and Main Street Beaufort, USA.

Council did not make any decisions on Tuesday.

But no matter how it all works out, the city has to offer some form of free holiday parking, said Nan Sutton, who owns the Lulu Burgess store and is the wife of Councilman Mike Sutton.

"I don't know what you do," she said of attracting downtown shoppers, "but they've got to feel the goodwill there."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.

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